Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s cricket has always been simple. But, the same can’t be said about his business interests. Controversial deals, allegations of conflict of interest, and legal wrangles have been part of the intricate maze that Dhoni, his wife and partners have built over the years.
Dhoni, as we know, is a man of varied interests. Sometimes, the interests are intertwined in such a way that it becomes difficult to separate the cricketer from them. One of the intriguing examples of this blurring of lines between the various Dhonis was his ‘performance’ at the Rashtrapati Bhavan when he was conferred the Padma Bhushan.
On April 2, 2018, seven years to the date after he led India to a World Cup triumph, Dhoni walked up to the podium to accept the award not as a cricketer but as an honorary Lt Colonel of the Territorial Army, whose insignia he was to later wear on his gloves in the 2019 World Cup.
As Dhoni walked up to the president, in his army uniform, back stiff, arms swaying left, right, left to the beat of a drum in his mind, the irony wasn’t lost to many. Here was a man, being decorated for achievements in sports, walking out to accept the recognition as a combatant.
This merger of personalities required a retelling because a similar confluence of interests has been a recurring theme of his life away from the cricket field. And, its latest example is the revelation that his wife Sakshi was a director in a company that was reportedly a beneficiary of a sham deal with the Amrapali Group of Companies, accused of siphoning off investors’ money.
According to findings of a forensic audit of the group submitted to the Supreme Court, Dhoni’s wife held a 25 per cent stake in a company that was among the 47 alleged beneficiaries of homebuyers’ fund diverted by the real estate group to its subsidiaries.
The audit report also discovered that an Amrapali subsidiary had paid ₹6.52 crore out of the total ₹42.22 crore from the parent group to Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited during the years 2009–2015. This deal has also come under a cloud.
Three years ago, when allegations of fraud against the real estate behemoth became louder, Dhoni had “disassociated” himself from the Amrapali Group. But, not even once had he come clean on his wife’s business deals with the tainted group
According to the audit report, the agreement between Amrapali and Rhiti Sports was on a plain paper. This implies that it was “executed only between Amrapali and Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited,” the report said.
A deal made on plain paper is often referred to as “kutcha sauda” (something that’s not brought to the notice of the competent authorities) in market lingo. It is seen as a means for evading tax and other legal hurdles. Rhiti’s managing director Pandey has, however, denied any wrong doing. He has claimed all his transactions with Amrapali were bonafide.
Apart from allegations of the company being used as a conduit for siphoning off money, many other questions about the transparency of the deal were raised by the audit report.
One, the transactions, according to the group, were in cash. But, Amrapali Mahi Development Company Limited, the business venture part-owned by Sakshi, did not file annual reports to the Registrar of Companies (RoC). Thus, the transactions, claimed by the group, could not be audited or verified.
Two, so far, Dhoni had maintained that he was just a brand ambassador for the Amrapali Group. Three years ago, when allegations of fraud against the real estate behemoth became louder, Dhoni had “disassociated” himself from the Amrapali Group. But, not even once had he come clean on his wife’s business deals with the tainted group.
Three, how is Dhoni allowing himself to be a managed by a company whose transactions have come under the cloud not once but on many occasions in the past because of controversial practices?
Just a few days ago, it could be recalled, his wife was named in an FIR against Rhiti Sports for an alleged fraud, claiming Sakshi be prosecuted as she was a director in the company. Pandey had responded by claiming Sakshi had nothing to do with the allegations.
In 2013, it was revealed that Dhoni had a 15 per cent stake in Rhiti Sports. This had created a furore as Dhoni was then also captaining sides that were managing sponsorships and endorsements of fellow cricketers Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha. Though Dhoni did not respond to charges of conflict of interest, Pandey had argued that the former skipper had held a stake only for a brief period.
A similar controversy had engulfed Dhoni when it was revealed that he was a vice-president in India Cements. N Srinivasan, owner of India Cements, is a former BCCI chief. His company also owns the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings, which is captained by Dhoni.
It is obvious from his record that Dhoni’s business interests have often clashed with his duties as a cricketer and a captain. It is also equally evident that some of these deals have been controversial and allegedly run contrary to the image of a cricketer who hits with a straight bat on the cricket pitch.
Off the pitch, there may be a little more to the Dhoni we so love and admire as an icon.