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

FP Staff August 22, 2016 16:27:08 IST
Release of Brett Lee's film UNIndian brings back ghost of Pearls Group Ponzi scheme

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.

Release of Brett Lees film UNIndian brings back ghost of Pearls Group Ponzi scheme

Brett Lee with Tannishtha Chatterjee in a still from 'UNIndian'

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.

However, Lee's former manager Neil Maxwell said that the cricketer's association with Pearls lasted for less than a year, and mainly involved "a photo-shoot" and "few days' work".

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.

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