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White House crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi hold polo event on the Mall

On federally owned turf, eight months after they crashed the Obamas' first White House state dinner, the Virginia socialites found a way to put on what has become their signature event.
By Neely Tucker
Sunday, June 13, 2010

The America's Polo Cup featured a match between the United States and India Saturday on the Mall, although neither government participated in the event. The event's Web site listed its key sponsor as Kingfisher Beer, whose chief executive said the company was not a sponsor. The advertising for the event promised sponsors that it was the "best sporting experience . . . in the United States and considered the best in the world by the highest standards of polo."

It seemed controversial business as usual for the event's promoters, Tareq and Michaele Salahi. On federally owned turf, beneath a Washington sky, eight months after they crashed the Obamas' first White House state dinner, the embattled Virginia socialites found a way to put on what has become their signature event.

They remain under federal investigation for their November White House visit, and Virginia is investigating America's Polo Cup for past claims to have been a charitable fundraiser.

But on Saturday, the sun shone, the ponies ran, and the wine and beer flowed -- for a crowd of perhaps 250. The event's advertising put admission at $95 per person.

(Photos from the Salahi polo event)

"I saw an ad for it on a bus, so I brought my friend for his birthday present," said D.C. resident Blaire Jones, sitting at a table under the big white tent near the polo field and fanning away the afternoon heat. Her 27-year-old companion declined to give his name. "I don't know anything about polo, but it's nice," she said.

Stephanie Bosch, another District resident who brought her boyfriend to the event, was also a first-timer at a polo match. "It's entertaining -- it's something to do on a weekend in Washington," she said. "But I did buy the tickets before I realized it was run by the Salahis."

The event, held in West Potomac Park, featured food from vendors including Tandoori Nights and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. There was a silent auction offering dozens of signed photographs, sports jerseys, and musical instruments from entertainers and musicians -- a guitar listed as being autographed by Paul McCartney had a minimum bid of $1,050 -- but three hours after the gates opened, it appeared that no bids had been placed on any of the items.

In years past, the Salahi-run event has featured matches between a team of U.S. players and another team from elsewhere. England was the first, then Italy and Australia. Sponsors such as Land Rover and Cartier flocked to the first event. But as news of the couple's troubles with vendors and dozens of lawsuits began accumulating across the region, sponsors became fewer.

India's embassy signed on as an official sponsor last year. But after the couple attended the White House state dinner for the Indian prime minister without an official invitation, turning the event into a national scandal, the embassy withdrew.

The "Government of India/Embassy of India are not associated with the America's Polo Cup event in any manner," Rahul Chhabra, spokesman for the Indian Embassy, wrote in an e-mail Friday.

Yashpal Singh, president and chief executive of Mendocino Brewing Company, the parent company of Kingfisher, said Friday that his company also dropped out of the event at that time. He said the Salahis persisted in using Kingfisher's name and logo in advertising.

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