Home >Companies >Supreme Court lets Sahara sell its assets to repay investors

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday allowed Sahara India to sell its properties in the country and abroad to return money to its investors.

The apex court’s directive came after capital markets regulator Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi) informed the court that it has not sold any of Sahara’s properties till date.

“Sebi’s efforts seemed to come to a standstill and we hope you can sell the properties to raise the money required," a bench led by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur said. Sahara can sell its properties at a price that is at least 90% of the applicable circle rates, according to the court’s order.

“The Supreme Court’s embargo has been lifted to a certain extent. Sahara can now sell any of its properties with the same terms and conditions that was allowed to Sebi," Sahara Group said in a statement.

On 29 March, the apex court had asked Sebi to initiate the sale of Sahara group properties, estimated at 40,000 crore to raise the money payable by group chief Subrata Roy for his release from more than two years in jail.

The bench, also comprising justices Anil R. Dave and A.K. Sikri, extended Roy’s parole till 3 August after he agreed to deposit an additional 300 crore. Initially, Roy and Ashok Roy Choudhary—his brother-in-law and a Sahara director—were granted parole on 6 May conditionally against a collateral of land worth 6,109 crore to perform his mother’s last rites and was extended by two months after depositing 200 crore.

The court also allowed parole for Sahara director Ravi Shankar Dubey, taking his age into consideration. Dubey is 70 years old and has difficulty in jail, said advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Sahara. “We are in talks with the government of Qatar to sell the Grosvenor House," Sibal told the court.

Roy, Dubey and Roy Choudhary are in judicial custody since 4 March 2014 for failing to deliver on promises made to return the money two Sahara firms  collected from depositors. On 26 March that year, the court set the bail amount at an unprecedented 10,000 crore— half in cash and half as a bank guarantee.

In March, Sahara had completed the cash payment of 5,000 crore towards bail for Roy and the two directors, and only the bank guarantee of 5,000 crore is still pending.

Sebi moved the apex court in August to recover 36,000 crore from Sahara to refund investors who purchased securities from two group firms. Sebi had asked the court to appoint a receiver who would dispose of Sahara’s domestic and offshore properties, and raise the money.

The court is also considering appointing a receiver to sell Sahara’s properties if deals underway do not fructify. The court will hear Sebi’s plea on appointment of a receiver on 3 August, when Roy’s parole ends.

“Allowing Sahara to sell at 90% of the circle rate in the current property market will give Sahara the flexibility in price and a better chance in closing deals when buyers are negotiating hard to buy land," said a property consultant, who didn’t want to be named.

While circle rate is determined by the state authorities and is the minimum value at which a property transaction can take place, market rate is the value at which property deals happen. Circle rates are usually lower than market rates.

CNBC TV-18 had reported on 7 July that Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign domestic and foreign investment agency of Qatar, has agreed to buy Sahara’s stake in the plush Grosevor House hotel in London and Plaza Hotel and Dream Downtown in New York.

The last big transaction that Sahara concluded was in December, 2014, when it sold a 185-acre land parcel in Chauma, near the Gurgaon-Delhi border, to Gurgaon-based real estate firm M3M India Pvt. Ltd for 1,211 crore.

It was one of the four land parcels for which Sahara had signed sale agreements. The others were in Jodhpur, Vasai (near Mumbai) and Pune.

These are part of the ten properties Sahara was allowed by the Supreme Court to sell. A part of the Aamby Valley project in Maharashtra of about 600 acres, was also allowed to be sold.

In early 2014, Sahara sold a 100-acre plot in Ahmedabad to city-based HN Safal Group for around 411 crore.

“Most of Sahara’s assets demand large ticket transactions and many are located in smaller Tier II and III locations. In the current market scenario, where liquidity situation is tight, there isn’t much appetite for such deals. Secondly, there are litigation issues in many of these assets and lack of clarity on zoning issues," said a second consultant, involved in a couple of ongoing land transactions for Sahara. He didn’t wish to be named.

For close to three years, Sahara negotiated the sale of three of its overseas properties—Grosvenor House, Plaza Hotel and the Dream Downtown Hotel.

A 17 March 2016 Bloomberg report said that the Plaza Hotel and the Dream Downtown were poised to go on sale in April as a package.

Billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben hold the mortgage on the Plaza and have scheduled a foreclosure auction for 26 April, the report said. The Reubens bought the loan from Bank of China Ltd after a default by Sahara, the report said.

Sahara has filed a defamation case in a Patna court against Mint’s editor and some reporters over the newspaper’s coverage of the company’s dispute with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Mint is contesting the case.

Madhurima Nandy contributed to the story.

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