For around six crore investors in the country, the wait is finally over for getting their hard-earned money back. The Supreme Court has cleared the decks for a quick sale of all the assets of the Pearls Group’s companies, which owe more than Rs 46,000 crore to at least 5.85 crore investors spread across states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Delhi. More than 10,000 properties of the companies are likely to be sold, besides liquidation of their various cash deposits, for paying back the investors.
The money was collected by Nirmal Singh Bhangoo-managed group through its two companies — Pearls Agrotech Corporation Limited (PACL) and Pearls Golden Forest Limited (PGFL), in ponzi schemes under the garb of sale and development of agricultural land. The amount concerned is twice that collected by the Sahara group, which is said to have mobilised Rs 24,000 crore.
A bench of Justices FMI Kalifulla and Shiva Kirti Singh has constituted a Special Committee, which would ensure sale of the immovable properties as well as liquidation of fixed deposits of the group companies “at the earliest possible time” for making refunds to the investors.
The Committee, comprising retired high court judges Justices K Ramamoorthy and Eshwar, will be assisted by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and both the agencies shall furnish all the details regarding the properties and cash seized by them during the course of the investigation.
In one of its biggest ever crackdown, Sebi had in August last year asked the group to return Rs 46,000 crore to more than 5.85 crore investors while also ordering immediate closure of unauthorised collective investment schemes by PACL. This amount was ordered to be refunded with promised returns, which could make it to a total of more than Rs 50,000 crore.
The CBI had also registered a case of criminal conspiracy and cheating against Bhangoo along with their several directors of PACL, a real estate company, and PGFL.
The inquiries by the agencies were initiated on a previous direction of the Supreme Court, which had directed them to look into “allegations of collections of huge deposits form public at large” by the promoters and directors of the two companies “by running pyramidal schemes under the garb of allotment of agricultural land to depositors.”
After Sebi moved the apex court seeking further directions for devising modalities on refunding investors, the bench had asked both the agencies to lay down details of the assets of the companies.
On April 1, the CBI told the court that it attached cash deposits of around Rs 80 crore in February 2014 alone when it had registered the first case. It added that the probe agency had seized papers of 348 properties of PGF and more than 14000 properties of PACL and others.
The court then directed SEBI and CBI to hand over all the requisite documents to the Committee for verification and assessment of the value of such properties which would go up for sale very soon.