SC orders attachment of Sahara’s Aamby Valley property worth Rs 39,000 cr

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The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the attachment of Sahara group properties in Aamby Valley near Pune, estimated to be worth Rs 39,000 crore to secure sums due to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).

The bench of Dipak Mishra, Tarun Gogoi and A K Sikri ordered the group to submit a list of properties “without any encumbrance” that can be put on a public auction to recover the principal sum due to Sebi, that stands at over Rs 14,000 crore. Sebi has claimed that total dues along with interest have exceeded Rs 47,000 crore. Of this, the group has so far remitted Rs 11,477 crore, Sebi counsel Pratap Venugopal informed the court.

The bench also extended the interim parole of group chief Subrata Roy till February 27, the date of next hearing, after Rs 600 crore was remitted by group counsel in a combination of bank drafts and online transfers into Sebi-Sahara account on Monday. Last month, the court had refused to extend the time given for this deposit and allowed a transfer of 35 million pounds raised out of the group’s foreign assets. Rs 295 crore from this transfer went into Monday’s deposit.

Spread over 10,600 acres on the Pune-Mumbai highway off Lonavla, Aamby Valley, the “planned hill city” boasts of a private airport, a hospital and luxury resorts. It has received investments from various group entities at different points of time. In 2010, Sahara India Real Estate Corp and Sahara Housing Invest Corp, the two entities which fell foul of Sebi regulations had invested Rs 6,700 crore in the shares and debentures of Aamby Valley Ltd, the company which owns the property. Subsequently, the firms told Supreme Court that they had sold these investments to Sahara Credit Cooperative Society and Sahara Q shop. Company records showed that a month after being released to attend his mother’s funeral in May, Roy had been appointed as an additional director of Aamby Valley.

The move to dispose of Aamby Valley to raise funds had been resisted by the group vehemently in the past, saying it would hamper the group’s efforts to shore up resources for repayment. On Monday, too objections were made by group counsel Kapil Sibal, but the court decided to go ahead, though it stopped short of appointing a receiver for the property.

All the other interlocutory applications including one by the Enforcement Directorate, which sought permission to issue provisional attachment orders on the overseas properties for alleged violation of forex regulations were posted to the next date. The bench also made it clear that the condition of “without encumbrance” on the list to be submitted was absolute and the properties should be without any kind of emcumbrance, litigation or claims.

Earlier Sahara counsel sought time for about two hours to present his case on the review petition citing an income tax tribunal order. However, the bench said such time can be given only after the principal sum dues are paid up.

Both Sebi counsel and the Amicus Curiae were not comfortable with the earlier roadmap submitted by Sibal, which stretched the repayment schedule till July 2019. Shekhar Naphade, the amicus, said, “This has gone on for too long. Whatever can be fixed as a reasonable time should be decided on.” He also drew the court’s notice to claims of various parties such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Income Tax department.

At this stage, Sibal said the department has passed an order saying 85 per cent of the investors were genuine and that he be given time to explain the ex-facie errors in the earlier orders. Mishra said the bench was not sitting on appeal over the earlier judgments and that the money has to be first paid before any review whatsoever could be considered.