3 years

Absconder of the week

Sahara Shri Bees Hazaar

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Sahara Group Chairman Subrata Roy’s love for fast cars and the high life is as famous as the man himself. Does he also love a high-speed chase? Looks like it. One would assume that a sum of Rs 20,000 crore would be peanuts for someone whose business empire—which the 66-year-old built from scratch after founding Sahara in 1978— stretches from Lucknow to London, Pune to New York. Strangely though, the man who likes drama, basks in glamour and flaunts traditional family values and ardent patriotism, also has a penchant for courting trouble.

After a series of run-ins with India’s market regulator SEBI, and evading court appearances for not refunding Rs 20,000 crore to investors in two of his companies, Roy now faces a non-bailable arrest warrant issued by the country’s apex court. And he has to appear before it on 4 March. On 31 August 2012, the Supreme Court had ordered Roy to refund investors in Sahara India Real Estate Corp Ltd and Sahara Housing Investment Corp Ltd the amount ‘within three months’.

Before that, Roy was involved in a three-year tussle with SEBI over furnishing information on investors in those two companies. In September 2012, his people sent a truck with aluminium cartons containing documents to SEBI’s Bandra-Kurla Complex office, which are now stored at the office of the Stock Holding Corporation of India Ltd at Mahape, Navi Mumbai.

SEBI officials saw this as a practical joke. Sahara could have sent those documents electronically to save SEBI officials the enormous difficulty of sifting through paper documents that could stack up several times higher than the Qutub Minar.

Maybe Roy wanted to create a world record of sorts—he holds many already. His company holds the Guinness Book record for the largest group of people singing a national anthem simultaneously. Over 120,000 Sahara employees sang the Indian national anthem on 8 May 2013 in Lucknow. His company’s grocery business is also in the Guinness Book for opening 315 outlets in 10 states across the country on April Fool’s Day last year.

For a corporate heavyweight who rubs shoulders with top Bollywood actors, cricketers and powerful politicians, Roy’s respect for institutions seems in short supply. Or perhaps he feels he has been wronged. Over the past few years, his company has run several ad campaigns in the media against SEBI’s alleged witch hunt against Sahara, whose website describes itself as the ‘world’s largest family’. Roy has played the PR game with zeal, and the last thing he needs amid his legal and regulatory troubles is negative publicity. Senior journalist Tamal Bandyopadhyay incurred his wrath when he wrote a book rich with anecdotes on the Sahara Group. Sahara sued the author and publisher Jaico for Rs 200 crore for defamation even before Sahara: The Untold Story hit stands.

Bandyopadhyay is now fighting a case for the immediate release of the book, which contains, among other things, conversations between Roy and the no-nonsense former SEBI chief CB Bhave who put his foot down and said he wouldn’t clear an IPO application by Sahara Prime City Ltd until the company furnished relevant documents— resulting in the biggest crisis ever for the highly flamboyant and networked Roy.