The Hon’ble Supreme Court will today be hearing a petition by homebuyers of the disgraced Amprapali group against former Indian captain MS Dhoni for recovery of Rs. 42.22 crore paid to him and to his talent agency Rhiti Sports. The matter was listed for hearing last Friday but was moved to 16 December. The homebuyers are being represented by noted lawyer ML Lahoty.
The SC had in its judgment on 23 July earlier this year come to the conclusion that the owners of Amrapali had diverted the above mentioned amount of Rs. 42.22 crore of homebuyer’s money to pay its brand ambassador Dhoni and the amount was paid to Rhiti Sports which manages his endorsements. Though the court had directed all directors and officials of Amrapali and other group companies to deposit the diverted amount in court, it had not passed any order against Dhoni. The current salvo in court is to press for recovery proceedings against the cricketer as homebuyers feel that the skipper has been unfairly enriched at their cost, and to their detriment and loss.
The Amrapali controversy is not new. Campaign India has covered it in great detail through blogs published on March 27, 2019 and on May 22, 2019. The essential arguments in both the blogs still remain the issues which will be debated in the Supreme Court today. The questions on Dhoni’s ethics re-surfaced in the summer of 2019 when he signed up an endorsement with the South Indian real estate company Samudhura. Just to re-cap the issues involved in the Amrapali case, and the subsequent Samudhura signing were broadly:
1. As brand ambassador, was Dhoni directly or indirectly responsible for Amprapali’s commitments to its home buyers? When he signed up with Samudhura, the questions that started to be asked again were whether there is a ‘limited public liability’ to his support to this new endorsement of a realty company?
2. Can Dhoni just claim to be ‘paid help’ and escape any role or responsibility in the cheating of thousands of middle class home buyers at Amrapali? Many asked what if something goes wrong at Samudhura too? While those questions have remain unanswered, the Amrapali homebuyers are again up in arms asking for Dhoni to return his ill-gotten gains from what was without doubt a fraud operation that looted hundreds of innocent buyers.
3. Prima facie, it would not be unfair to believe that the presence of Captain Dhoni in Amrapali ads helped lure a lot of the buyers. His endorsement of the builder was a ‘confidence building measure’ in the purchase of the house from Amrapali. When the builder defrauded, how much was Dhoni’s culpability? Dhoni’s accountability? Dhoni’s answerability? The same applied later to the Sumadhura situation. But in the Supreme Court petition today, homebuyers have come back aggressively to bring Dhoni to book and pin him down with the recovery suit.
4. It is surprising that civil society and media have fought shy of implicating Dhoni in the Amrapali case. There was some social media turbulence in 2016 versus Dhoni but he was not seriously a respondent or defendant in any of the civil and criminal cases filed against the Amrapali promoters. It is perhaps the halo of the man that cocooned him from litigation and potential prosecution for so long. The moot question that was asked earlier this year was whether having got off in the Amrapali case without any personal liabilities against him had emboldened Dhoni to cash in on the Samudhura endorsement moolah? Well, it seems the homebuyers’ persistence has ensured renewed discussion on Dhoni’s avarice at Amrapali.
46,000 homebuyers have waged a no-win battle against Amrapali for 10 long years. The latest battle in court is just part of what seems like an unending saga where thousands lost their lifelong savings to an unscrupulous builder but someone like Dhoni got richer by persuading many to buy flats that never were.
The Supreme Court’s ruling today in the MS Dhoni/Rhiti Sports case will further sharpen liabilities and responsibilities of celebrities who endorse just about anything without either due diligence or even proper knowledge of how and where their name and brand equity is to be used.
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