Subrata Roy's Sahara Group gets unsolicited offers for prized hotel assets in London, New York

Written by PTI | London/New York | Updated: Mar 12 2014, 18:53pm hrs
New York PlazaThe Plaza Hotel in New York City is jointly owned by Sahara Group and Kingdom Holdings, a Saudia Arabia based corporation.
Embroiled in a major crisis back home, Indian conglomerate Sahara has got unsolicited offers for at least three prized assets - London's Grosvenor House and New York's Plaza and Dreams Downtown hotels.

While the group is open to sale of these properties if some really good offer comes its way, the existing offers have been dismissed outrightly as they appear to be made with a view to cash in on the group's current crisis, sources said.

When contacted, a senior Sahara official in India also confirmed that some "unsolicited" offers have been received for overseas hotel properties, but the group has made it clear to them that these assets are not for sale.

While refusing to disclose the size of these offers and the identity of the parties interested, the official said that the group does not want to sell these assets as of now and it would consider any such move only if it gets "extraordinarily" high bids for these iconic assets.

The sources said however that some of these offers are in fact at discount to the price at which Sahara had actually purchased these assets and value the group's holding in all three properties at USD 1-1.5 billion (Rs 6,000-10,000 crore).

While exact identity of interested parties could not be ascertained, investment bankers and consultants claiming to be exploring a deal said that their clients include entities from Middle East and India, as also some Indian-origin foreign nationals. They are also pitching these properties before investors in the US and the UK itself.

The three hotels had been purchased by the group over the past few years for about USD 1.5 billion, although all of them are managed by third party hotel management companies. The group claims to have a net worth of over Rs 68,000 crore and total assets worth over Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

The acquisitions were funded by loans from various banks, while Bank of China got a significant exposure after it refinanced loans from some other banks including HSBC for some of these properties.

There have been speculations that Bank of China is also concerned about its exposure in the wake of ongoing controversy that Sahara group has got embroiled into, but officials at the group vehemently denied any apprehensions on the part of the bank or that of other business partners.

In Plaza hotel, Sahara group holds 75 per cent stake, while the remaining 25 per cent is with Kingdom Holding Company, an investment vehicle of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. There was also speculation that Saudi Prince might be interested in buying back the 75 per cent stake he had sold to Sahara.

Queries sent to Bank of China and Kingdom Holding remained unanswered.

The cross-border transactions through which these acquisitions were funded are under scanner of Indian regulators, along with various other dealings of the group which is fighting a long-running battle with markets regulator Sebi over refund to investors in certain bonds issued by two Sahara firms.