Brett Lee-endorsed company 'a Ponzi scheme'

Brett Lee was a brand ambassador for a Ponzi scheme that has ripped off billions from Indian investors. Photo / Getty Images
Brett Lee was a brand ambassador for a Ponzi scheme that has ripped off billions from Indian investors. Photo / Getty Images

A company that cricket legend Brett Lee once used his star power to endorse has been accused of ripping off as much as $10 billion from as many as 50 million Indian investors in an elaborate, long-running Ponzi scheme.

Lee, 39, became the Australian brand ambassador for Pearls Group in 2010 and even featured in an advertisement, building sandcastles alongside children.

But questions have been raised about Lee's involvement with the group after its executives were arrested in January, with The Australian reporting the scheme allegedly funnelled at least $130 million into Australia.

Lawyers involved in the case reportedly told The Australian that Lee's role would be examined during the investigation.

The Pearl Group's 2009 purchase of the Sheraton Mirage Resort and Spa on the Gold Coast will also be investigated, as Bhanghoo's company Pearls Australasia reportedly spent $82 million buying and renovating the property - which was built by notorious fugitive Christopher Skase.

Pearls Group has been accused of duping Indian investors by promising land. Its founder Nirmal Sing Bhangoo, who has become a powerplayer in the Brisbane property market, has been under investigation since as early as 2014 for the alleged Ponzi scheme.

Bhangoo and other Pearls Group executives were arrested in January on charges of criminal conspiracy. They gave inconsistent statements and stopped co-operating during questioning by India's premier law enforcement agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Economic Times reported.

In what is being described as one of the CBI's biggest investigations, 1300 bank accounts have been frozen and over 20,000 documents have been seized.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment scam that generates returns for early investors by using funds from new investors.

Lee's official website does not list the company on its endorsement page. He currently endorses a number of Australian and Indian companies, including Sanitarium Health Food Company, Nine Network, Vodafone, Castrol India and Reebok India.

Lee's former manager Neil Maxwell, who had negotiated the deal, told The Australian that the endorsement deal had only lasted for a year.

"It was just a photoshoot and that was about the extent of it," Maxwell said.

Punjab cricketers Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh, as well as other high profile celebrities, reportedly received gifts from the Ponzi company, which included land.


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