Maria Sharapova could be facing up to seven years behind bars
Maria Sharapova, a figure most recognizable in her tennis whites, might soon be wearing a very different sort of uniform as she faces the prospect of being sentenced to up to seven years in prison for her role in a fraudulent housing scheme.
The 30-year-old Russian athlete and former world number one tennis player endorsed a housing project in India called "Ace by Sharapova" back in 2013, but the project never took off. However, this did not stop people investing in the properties - and one person who claims to have been duped by the scheme was supposedly "lured" in by Sharapova herself.
As a result of this, Delhi police have registered a 'First Information Report' against the tennis player under cheating and criminal conspiracy charges.
In a court hearing, officials heard the account of a woman who says she had paid rupees 53.03 lakh (around $81,500) for one of the houses, which were due to be completed last year. And, even though the houses were never constructed, she did not see a refund on her money.
Of course, the housing company is primarily at fault here, but the accuser in the case is also holding Sharapova personally to blame.
“Sharapova not only aggressively promoted the fraudulent activities of [the housing firm], but also supported the project in the eyes of the general public and is, therefore, a part of this criminal conspiracy,” the woman told the court.
In her point of view, she was personally persuaded by the tennis star to hand her money over to the fraudulent firm, and therefore played a key role in the scam.
Court records show that, "The complainant says that she was lured by showing that Maria Sharapova had endorsed the residential flats… the brochure of respondent company shows the proposed Tennis Academy in the project and commercial space for clothings and sportswear."
However, the record also notes that, "at the stage of proceedings, this court has the version of complainant only."
Despite this, Sharapova has already had legal proceedings made against her, and, according to a police official: “The tennis star has now been booked for cheating and criminal conspiracy by Delhi Police, following a local court’s order. An aggrieved homebuyer had approached the court."
He added that, “The developers of the project have also been booked under similar charges. However, no one has been arrested in the case yet."
This is not the first time Sharapova has been accused of being involved with illegal activities, either. At the beginning of last year, she was sentenced to a 15-month tennis ban after testing positive for meldonium: a prohibited performance-enhancer.
However, she did explain that she had been taking the drug for medical purposes, and did not know that it had been banned:
"I take full responsibility for [my actions]. For the past ten years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my family doctor and a few days ago after I received the ITF (International Tennis Federation) letter I found out that it also has another name of meldonium which I did not know. It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA's banned list and I had legally been taking the medicine for the past 10 years."
Perhaps this housing "scam" was another case of Sharapova being misinformed about the situation - but only time will tell. The next hearing is due to take place on November 23rd.