Maria Sharapova has been named as part of a broader Indian police investigation into alleged cheating and criminal conspiracy. The tennis star endorsed a luxury apartment project that was never built.
"Ballet by Maria Sharapova" is the name of a project of luxury apartments endorsed by the former world number one, and run by the Indian real estate firm Homestead Infrastructure Development. In a wider case against the firm, police have filed charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy against the Russian tennis player.
The complex of luxury apartments, located in Gurgaon a satellite city of New Delhi, was supposed to be ready in 2016, but construction was abandoned after builders took millions from homebuyers' pockets before the project folded.
"Any celebrity who endorses any product technically becomes an agent for the company. No one would have invested in the project if Sharapova's name was not there," Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing one of the buyers, told AFP.
In 2012 the five-time Grand Slam champion traveled to India to launch the luxury high-rise apartment project bearing her name. "Ballet by Maria Sharapova," prospective buyers were told, would have a tennis academy, a clubhouse, and a helipad.
The project's website quotes Sharapova as saying her goal was "to make the owners feel like they own something special and different." Sharapova has not commented on the case so far.
Sharapova was the world's highest-paid female athlete in 2015, according to a Forbes magazine ranking, earning nearly $30 million (€25.4 million). Of that sum, $23 million came from sponsorship and endorsement deals, such as this luxury apartment complex, rather than tennis prize money.
Recently returned from doping ban
In March 2016 Sharapova publicly announced that she had tested positivefor the recently banned drug meldonium, saying she hadn't realized its usage was no longer permitted. The test had been taken earlier that year at the Australian Open.
The fallout was quick. The Russian was banned from professional tennis for two years, and Nike, one of her longtime sponsors, announced it was suspending its relationship with Sharapova while the investigation continued.
Her ban was later reduced to 15 months, and in August 2017 she was given a wild-card into the US Open. In her opening match against then number 2 ranked Simona Halep, Sharapova immediately returned to winning ways in three sets, 6-4 3-6 6-4.
In October she won her first WTA title since returning from her ban, the Tianjin Open. She is currently at 61 in the singles ranking.
ce/msh (AFP, AP)