The Supreme Court today directed the Sahara Group to deposit Rs 5092.6 crore by April 7 in the SEBI-Sahara account to keep its chief Subrata Roy out of jail and said the amount will be refunded to the investors. A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra refused to give six months time to the group to sell its properties but allowed it to sell assets, mentioned in the list furnished by it, for refund of money.
However, the bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and A K Sikri, observed that in case the group deposits a “substantial amount” out of Rs 5092.6 crore by April 7, the court may extend the time to sell other properties.
The judges said the group can sell 13 out of the 15 properties mentioned in one of the lists to deposit the amount and can also sell the properties, which are unencumbered, and mentioned in the other list given by it.
“In view of the aforesaid, we permit the contemnor to sell the properties mentioned in part A (of the list), barring items 14 and 15, and any other properties mentioned in part B which are unencumbered and to deposit Rs 5092.6 crore on or before April 7. The amount shall be deposited in the SEBI-Sahara refund account,” it said.
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“In case, a substantial amount is deposited by then, this court may intend to extend the time,” they said.
The bench also asked an international real estate firm, which has shown willingness to buy Sahara’s stake in New York- based Plaza Hotel for 550 million USD, to deposit Rs 750 crore in the apex court registry before April 10 to show its bonafide.
At the outset, senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the SEBI, told the bench that one of the properties mentioned relates to the stakes or shareholding of the firm in formula one racing team Force India, and it should be excluded from auction.
He said the SEBI had tried to auction some of the properties mentioned in the list but it was unsuccessful and suggested that an e-auction could be done.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Sahara, submitted that the court can attach some of their properties as security and the group would give an undertaking that if it does not pay the amount in 22 months, these assets can be sold.
To this, the bench said, “Why cannot e-auction method be followed as is being done in auctioning of spectrum?”
Sibal said that the group has already sold 16 properties and has “brought the money” and it was willing to sell whatever was possible.
“We will sell whatever we can and if we don’t comply with it (direction), you can sent me (Roy) to Tihar (jail),” he said, adding, “We will try to sell other properties also which are not mentioned in the lists. My request is that you (court) allow us to sell these ourselves.”
When Sibal said e-auction process will take a minimum of six months, the bench asked Datar, “Why six months or one year? What kind of auction you will do?
“Why don’t you put these properties for e-auction? You make an effort as to which will be the agency and tell us,” it told Datar who referred to the lists of properties given by Sahara.
When the court insisted that the SEBI should go for e-auctioning of these properties, Sibal said, “My request is that allow us to sell these as otherwise the properties would be undervalued. We will lose money.”
The bench then told Sibal, “Okay. Do it in 30 days.”
The senior counsel said, “It can’t be done in 30 days. I am seeking a reasonable time for selling these properties. There are open lands and it is very difficult to sell such properties without any development given the economic scenario. Give us at least two months time.
“We have sold 16 properties earlier and have brought Rs 12,000 crore on the table,” he said.
The bench then gave time till April 7 to the group to sell the assets and deposit the money in the SEBI-Sahara account.
The court also noted Sibal’s submissions that the Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) has acquired a piece of land from the group, which would get a compensation of around Rs 1112.70 crore from the authority.
It issued notice to the GDA and asked its competent authority to appear before it on the next date of hearing, along with the relevant records.
However, the SEBI’s counsel told the bench that earlier, two agencies — the SBI Cap and the HDFC — were appointed by a court’s order for conducting e-auctioning of some of the properties but these could not be sold.
During the hearing, the advocate appearing for the real estate firm, which has expressed its willingness to buy Sahara’s stake in Plaza Hotel, said that they have an offer of 550 million USD for buying the stake.
“Okay, you show your bonafide and deposit Rs 2,000 crore here. You say you have an offer. You show your bonafide,” the bench asked the counsel who said they would deposit Rs 100 crore.
“Rs 100 crore is nothing. You should deposit at least Rs 750 crore and we will ask them (the group) to show you the documents,” the bench said while posting the matter for further hearing on April 17.
Meanwhile, the Sahara Group claimed in a statement that after the SEBI and the Securities Appellate Tribunal orders, it has paid back to around 95 per cent of its investors of its optionally fully convertible debenture (OFCD) liabilities.
It claimed that it “has also deposited Rs 15,000 crore (including interest earned on monies submitted by Sahara) to the SEBI along with land (worth) around Rs 20,000 crore so far while the SEBI in the last more than four years has repaid a total of less than Rs 100 crore, which also includes Rs 40 crore of interest to be paid to investors.”
The apex court had earlier directed attachment of the group’s prime property worth Rs 39,000 crore at Aamby Valley in Pune for realisation of money to be paid to its investors.
It had also asked Sahara to provide it the list of “unencumbered properties” which can be put up for public auction to realise the remaining over Rs 14,000 crore of the principal amount of around Rs 24,000 crore that has to be deposited in the SEBI-Sahara account.
The court had on November 28 last year asked Roy to deposit Rs 600 crore more by February 6 in the SEBI-Sahara refund account to remain out of jail and warned that failure to do so would result in his return to prison.
It had on May 6, 2016 granted a four-week parole to Roy to attend the funeral of his mother. His parole has been extended by the court ever since. Roy was sent to Tihar jail on March 4, 2014.
Besides Roy, two other directors — Ravi Shankar Dubey and Ashok Roy Choudhary — were arrested for the failure of the group’s two companies — Sahara India Real Estate Corporation (SIRECL) and Sahara Housing Investment Corp Ltd (SHICL) — to comply with the court’s August 31, 2012 order to return Rs 24,000 crore to their investors.
However, director Vandana Bhargava was not taken into custody