Mahendra Singh Dhoni is headlining again—no, Mahi hasn’t announced his retirement from ODIs, haven’t changed his hairstyle, or bought another superbike. The former Indian captain and wife Sakshi landed in a controversy this week vis-a-vis the debt-riddled Amrapali Group, the realtor Dhoni had endorsed as brand ambassador sometime ago until they fell out over alleged unpaid dues to the cricketer. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court observed that Amrapali—in the dock for unfinished housing projects in Noida and Greater Noida—had created several companies “to route funds” collected from homebuyers. And according to a Supreme Court-appointed auditor’s report, one of these companies—Amrapali Mahi Developers Private Limited—has Sakshi as its director, while the other—Amrapali Media Vision Private Limited—paid Rs 24 crore to Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited, a company in which Dhoni has stakes. Rhiti used to manage his commercial interests as well.
“Several companies were created only to route the funds and transactions consisting of office boys, persons with no income and dummy companies in which family members and relatives were inducted as members only for few transactions....” the court said in its ruling that caught Dhoni on the wrong foot. Also, the court directed state-run builder NBCC to take over all unfinished Amrapali projects.
As the controversy raged, Rhiti lawyer Ashwani Gupta clarified that the auditor’s report is “devoid of proper information” and “neither the transactions nor the company is sham”. He says in a statement to Outlook that “the question of siphoning funds does not arise because Rhiti provided all professional services as per agreements and pre-agreed endorsement fee received from Amrapali was paid to relevant endorsers”. Rhiti, instead, accuses Amrapali of owing approximately Rs 40 crore and that it had filed a suit to recover the amount.
Dhoni had made similar accusations against Amrapali, saying the realtor didn’t honour the contract when he was endorsing the brand from 2009 to 2016, and defaulted on paying Rs 40 crore. Three years ago, he resigned as its brand ambassador following negative publicity as the company had left thousands of homebuyers stranded.
The Rhiti clarification follows accusations from auditors Pawan Kumar Aggarwal and Ravinder Bhatia that Amrapali had a “sham” agreement with Rhiti. “Homebuyers’ money has been diverted illegally and wrongly to Rhiti…should be recovered from it as the agreement in our opinion do not stand the test of law,” states the report that the top court reproduced on Tuesday.
The report says Rhiti received Rs 42.22 crore from Amrapali from 2009 to 2015. Of this, Amrapali Sapphire Developers Private Limited paid Rs 6.52 crore. The audit questions “grey areas” in agreements between Amrapali and Rhiti. One such agreement, dated March 20, 2015, gave Amrapali the “right to advertise as logo space at various places in IPL 2015 for Chennai Super Kings”, which was led by Dhoni. The auditors found that “this agreement is on plain paper and executed only between Amrapali and Rhiti and there are no signatories on behalf of Chennai Super Kings”.
Amrapali Mahi, with Sakshi as director, also came under the auditors’ scanner. Their report says the firm “received share capital in cash and all the expenses were paid in cash”. An MoU was also signed between the parties, though the court was not provided a copy of it. Also, the auditors state that “we are informed verbally this company (Amrapali Mahi) was incorporated for a project in Ranchi”.
The audit report says a flat was booked for Rhiti in the Amrapali Sapphire housing project as an “adjustment”. Sanjay Pandey of Rhiti, however, dismissed the allegation. He told the auditors that no “no due diligence was carried out before accepting the brand endorsement (Dhoni’s), though the value and paying capacity was taken into consideration”.
For his part, Dhoni is known for his cool, composed ways—if we discount his outbursts on the field once in a while, which are rare, and his famous “maun brat” during the IPL spot-fixing scandal that rocked Indian cricket’s vary foundations. Dhoni has weathered many a storm in the past. Will he ride out this one too?
Not The Mahi Way
After two 4-0 whitewashes in England and Australia in 2011-12, selectors unanimously decided to rid Dhoni of the captaincy. Mohinder Amarnath, former selector, said BCCI president N. Srinivasan—who owned CSK—overruled the decision.
The Supreme Court-appointed Mudgal committee referred to a case in 2014, which reports say, involved a former CID officer who found links between bookies, G. Meiyappan, the son-in-law of Srinivasan, and Dhoni. The captain dismissed the allegations.
Rift with Seniors
Dhoni allegedly influenced the exclusion of Ganguly and Dravid from the ODI team for the 2008 Australia tour. Reports say he got into an off-field spat with vice captain Virender Sehwag before the 2009 World T20 in West Indies. During India’s tour of Australia in 2011-12, Dhoni said the team “will lose about 20 runs” if Sachin, Gambhir and Sehwag are played together. Result: only two of these seniors played in one match. One sat out.
Conflict of Interest
Captain Dhoni waded into a conflict-of-interest in 2013, with 15 per cent stakes (as per reports) in Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited, which managed his commercial interests and that of others such as Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja. The firm also tended to CSK’s marketing.
2015. ODI against Bangladesh in Mirpur. Dhoni set off for a single after playing the ball to mid-off in the 25th over. Pacer Mustafizur Rahman moved into Dhoni’s path, and the batsman shoved him out of his way. Dhoni lost 75 per cent of his match fee; Mustafizur 50 per cent.
Dagger on Gloves
India’s opening 2019 World Cup game against South Africa in Southampton. Dhoni’s green gloves had a dagger logo, like an army ‘Balidan’ insignia. The rule book allows only one sponsor’s logo on the wicketkeeper’s gloves. Dhoni sported an SG logo. The ICC ruled out the dagger insignia.
In 2013, when the IPL spot-fixing scandal rocked cricket, Dhoni’s silence raised eyebrows even as CSK and Rajasthan Royals were suspended for two years (2015-17). A prosecution lawyer accused him of ‘not being entirely honest’ with the investigators. He finally spoke in a documentary in 2018. “I was never depressed as much as I was then. The closest was 2007 World Cup when we lost in the group stages.”
Compiled by Sidharth Gulati