Published On : Mon, Mar 23rd, 2015

Big Decision Today Expected From SC on Sahara

NewDelhi/Nagpur: The Supreme Court will decide the future of conglomerate Sahara later on Monday, when it rules on whether time has run out for the controversial business empire to raise Rs 10,000 crore it needs to free its jailed chief.

The top court last week gave Sahara, a sprawling conglomerate that ranges from property to Formula One motor racing, a final chance to raise funds against its assets in order to bail out its founder, Subrata Roy.

If it fails to raise the cash, the court could appoint a receiver to auction its assets, which include properties such as New York’s Plaza Hotel. This could prove a challenge as industry analysts say a fire sale may not raise enough to free Roy and get Sahara back on its feet.

“If you ask people if this is the best time to sell high value assets in the country, the majority of them would say no,” said Sanjay Dutt, head of property consultant Cushman and Wakefield in India. “With this kind of investment, somebody has to be very ambitious in every sense of the word.”

Sahara did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sahara has made several, failed attempts to raise the money to free Mr Roy on bail. He has been held in jail for more than a year after regulators said Sahara failed to comply with a court order to refund billions of dollars to investors in a bond programme that was ruled illegal.

Sahara has said it has paid most of the dues to the bondholders. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which is seeking redress for millions of investors, disputes that.

Despite Sahara’s interest in a host of businesses – from media, retail and insurance to films and an F1 racing team – it will have to rely on its property assets to raise funds.

Profits at Sahara One Media and Entertainment, which produces and distributes movies and makes TV content, dropped 64 per cent to Rs 1.9 crore in the year to March 2014, documents filed with the regulator show. Profit at its life insurance unit fell by more than a fifth to Rs 23.8 crore, according to the documents reviewed by Reuters.

But raising funds by selling local properties such as the Aamby Valley township outside Mumbai, which has luxury villas and a golf course, will be tough in a market that has yet to recover from a painful economic slowdown.

In its last attempt, Sahara said it was close to finalising a deal with US-based investor Mirach Capital to raise money by taking a loan against its overseas hotels including the Plaza, but those talks fell through.

Earlier this month, Sahara’s landmark Grosvenor House hotel in London was put up for sale. A Bank of China loan, partly backed by the hotel, was declared in default.

Mr Roy built the Sahara empire starting with 2,000 rupees and a Lambretta scooter in the late 1970s. He built a profile that brought the country’s prime minister, state chief ministers, actors and cricketers to attend his extravagant parties.