Release of Brett Lee's film UNIndian brings back ghost of Pearls Group Ponzi scheme
Brett Lee was the brand ambassador for the Pearls Group in 2010, which is believed to have scammed 5.5 crore investors of their savings
UNIndian sank without a trace at the Australian box office in 2015 (amid unfavourable reviews, this one stood out: "Lee’s performance is like that of a malfunctioning microwave oven — while he can start and stop on cue, it would be unwise to consume what he is cooking"; it gave the film a 0.5 on 5 star rating) but considering Brett Lee's fan following in India — thanks to his exploits on the cricket field — hopes for this debut film were considerably higher when it released this week in India.
While it's certainly been treated a lot more kindly by critics here, the India release of UNIndian has not had the most propitious of outcomes for Lee.
It's led to a new round of stories about his past involvement with the Pearls Group — the company that is believed to be responsible for one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in India.
In January this year, the CBI had arrested Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, the Pearls Group CMD, after a two-year investigation that is reported to have uncovered a Rs 45,000 crore scam that defrauded around 5.5 crore investors. Most of these investors are said to be from poor, rural economic backgrounds, and were systematically swindled over the course of two decades.
Brett Lee had been brought on board as a brand ambassador for Pearls back in 2010.
Australian news outlets covering the scam reported that Lee had been paid around $300,000 for the endorsement.
His brother Shane was also reported to be one of the directors of a company that the Pearls Group reportedly paid Rs 1.4 crores to.
Investigations into the scam seemed to establish that Lee had had no knowledge of any wrongdoing at the time of taking up the endorsement deal. However, Australian media felt that Lee should have clarified his stand, issued an apology or returned the money he made from the endorsement deal.
Lee has maintained a studied silence on the issue so far, and indeed, his name would not have been brought up in connection with the Pearls scam but for UNIndian's Indian release.
Incidentally, Lee was not the only cricketer to be connected with the Pearls Group. Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh were both allegedly given plots by the Pearl Group, which the CBI intended to seize.
Australia came to the 2007 World T20 as the favourites, their stature enhanced not just by the fact that they were World No 1 and the reigning world champs, but also because of a squad that was loaded with veritable heavyweights of the sport. But they lost their opener to underdogs Zimbabwe.
With the wickets of Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza and Alok Kapali, Brett Lee made history at Cape Town as he became the first player to take a hat-trick in T20Is.
Lee believes the Men in Blue, who won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, are strong contenders to win the tournament that starts on Sunday. India will open their campaign on 24 October against Pakistan.