NEW DELHI (TIP): The income tax department on July 3 raised an interim demand of Rs 4,860 crore on the Sahara group even as it is busy selling off assets and mopping up bank accounts to arrange for Rs 10,000 crore to secure the release of chairman Subrata Roy and two directors, detained in jail since March 4.
The I-T department made this disclosure before a bench of Justices T S Thakur, A R Dave and A K Sikri, when it was discussing with counsel for Sahara and market regulator Sebi about the possible safeguards required to be put in place for sale of the group’s three hotels abroad — Grosvenor House in London and two New York hotels, the Dreams Downtown and the Plaza.
Advocate Arijit Prasad said the I-T department has filed an application detailing the interim tax demand of Rs 4,860 crore raised on Sahara Real Estate and Sahara Housing for the assessment years 2009-10 and 2010-11. The court said it would be heard as and when the registry lists it. Sahara group strongly opposed the I-T department’s application.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said, “We are already in big trouble. Why are they here to make it worse?” The bench said in a lighter vein, “You have to take the bull by its horn when you cannot escape.” Dhavan replied, “The real bull is Sebi and we will take it on.” Dhavan’s confession presented a true picture of the financial constraints faced by Sahara, which has already deposited Rs 3,117 crore in cash with Sebi after selling off a property in Ahmedabad.
There are eight more properties which could fetch the group Rs 3,800 crore. Sale of the three hotels in London and New York would give the group an additional Rs 5,000 crore to furnish bank guarantee and leave a surplus. Dhavan said the group needed Rs 1,200 crore urgently to pay its employees, who have not been paid salaries for three months. He said the quickest way to tide over the financial crunch was to sell off the foreign hotels. But to make the deals with potential buyers lucrative and worth the effort, he requested the court to release Roy for an interim period of 40 days.
“It is one thing when the management negotiates with prospective buyers and quite another when the boss does it. If within 40 days the deals don’t materialize and the money is not deposited with Sebi, the court can put him back in jail,” Dhavan said.
The bench asked Sebi counsel Pratap Venugopal to file response by Friday on two issues – release of Roy for 40 days to negotiate the sale of hotels in London and New York and safeguards to be put in place to ensure transparency and fairness in these sales. Dhavan requested the court not to insist on further impediments on the sale of foreign hotels as these would bring down their price. He said the creditor, Bank of China, had assessed the price of the hotels through reputed valuers and there was no underhand deal involved in it. The hearing will resume on Friday.
The SC had sent Roy and two directors to jail after the group repeatedly failed to honour its directions to deposit Rs 24,000 crore with interest with Sebi. The court had asked the market regulator to verify the three crore investors from whom the money was illegally raised through one-time fully convertible debentures. Sahara, through counsel Keshav Mohan, had told the court that the group had earlier deposited Rs 5,120 crore. Mohan said that of the Rs 5,000 crore cash, the group had deposited Rs 3,117 crore and the rest would be deposited as soon as possible.