New Delhi, Apr 10: Weeks before being sent to jail by the Supreme Court, the embattled Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy wanted to go abroad for "business discussions" with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, markets regulator Sebi's lawyer Arvind Datar in this high-profile case has said.
Describing the long-drawn legal battle between Sebi and Sahara as a "fascinating case", Datar also said, "As the line goes 'picture abhi baaki hai', we don't know when and where it will take (us)."
Roy was sent to the national capital's high-security Tihar Jail on March 4, 2014 and has been lodged there since then as a legal tussle continues over collection of money by two Sahara firms from an estimated three crore investors.
Delivering a lecture on 'Sahara vs Sebi' case here on Friday evening, the eminent lawyer said the Supreme Court had asked Roy not to leave the country when the issue related to a Mumbai property came up during one of the hearings.
"Before the Supreme Court asked him (Roy) to appear, he filed an application to say that he wanted to leave India... He said he wanted to leave India to meet Bill Clinton and Tony Blair for business discussion. It is on record," Datar said.
Clinton and Blair are the former US President and the UK Prime Minister, respectively. The Court later asked Roy to appear before it and thereafter, he filed an affidavit, saying his mother was very serious and he can't leave Lucknow, Datar said.
"I said I will be the last person to come in such a way but if he can go and meet Bill Clinton, then he can come and meet the Supreme Court," Datar said in his lecture organised by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy here. Noting that Roy did not turn up despite the Court order, Datar said, "The most foolish thing you can do is violate an order of the Supreme Court."
For interim bail, the Court put conditions of depositing Rs 5,000 crore in cash and a bank guarantee of equal amount.
"As I speak, out of the Rs 5,000 crore in cash, they are running short by Rs 500-600 crore. They have collected most of the money. Now, the only thing is they have to collect the remaining amount and then get the bank guarantee.
"We said it has to be guaranteed by a bank in India as they got a guarantee from a bank in Panama coincidentally... that time there was no Panama problem," he said in an apparent reference to the recent Panama Papers leak of documents showing alleged offshore accounts of hundreds of Indians.
According to Datar, the amount to be paid to investors was around Rs 24,000 crore and along with interest, it became Rs 34,000-35,000 crore. So far, Sebi has refunded only around Rs 55 crore. Sahara claims to have refunded over 95 per cent investors directly.
Regarding progress on Sebi's refund process, Datar said there were 3 crore total depositors, but refund claims have been made by only 5,000 depositors. "The total amount refunded by Sebi is Rs 55 crore, as I speak," he added.
To raise the bail money amount for Roy's release, the Supreme Court has now asked Sebi to initiate the process of selling 87 "unencumbered" properties of the Sahara group, whose title deeds are with the regulator.
Datar, however, said this would be a "herculean task" as he cited example of the recent no-show by bidders at an auction for Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher House building.
"What I am worried is that there are several properties worth approximately Rs 40,000 crore. Now, we have to go for title scrutiny, we have to get all that done and that is a herculean task," he said.
Responding to a query on whether there is a timeline for assets sale, Datar said he really does not know.
"For example, Mallya's Kingfisher building has not been sold... I have suggested that let's not go into valuations, what is the circle rate and if I am getting a value of 90 per cent, I have the liberty subject to the judge's approval to sell the property. I have no timeline," he said.
Banks recently put to auction Kingfisher House, the erstwhile headquarters of the long-grounded Kingfisher Airlines, as part of their efforts to recover dues totalling over Rs 9,000 crore from Vijay Mallya and his group firms. But no bid came through and the banks are still working on a fresh process to sell the property, whose base price was pegged at Rs 150 crore.
Mallya incidentally left India days before the lenders approached the Supreme Court in their bid to recover their loans. "As I speak today, Subrata Roy Sahara completes 766 days in jail, I made a back-of-the-envelope calculation. How long will he be there? Till he pays Rs 10,000 crore, he has to be there," he said.
"Once he pays Rs 10,000 crore, he can come out of jail and then we have the further arduous task of recovering the balance Rs 25,000 crore."