REUTERS - The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) ordered a freeze on the assets and bank accounts of two Sahara Group companies, saying they failed to heed a Supreme Court order to repay billions of dollars collected from investors in outlawed bonds.
The orders posted late on Wednesday by the SEBI escalated a battle between the regulator and unlisted Sahara, one of India's biggest business groups and a household name in the country through its sponsorship of the national cricket team.
SEBI also ordered a freeze on all bank accounts and properties in the name of the Sahara Group founder, Subrata Roy, and three other directors of the two firms, according to two separate orders posted on the regulator's website.
A Sahara group spokesman had no immediate comment when reached by Reuters.
Sahara owns the Grosvenor House hotel in London and last year struck a deal to buy the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Sahara was ordered in August to repay sums raised by what the court called "dubious" means from nearly 30 million small investors, with 15 percent interest a year.
The Supreme Court in December had ordered Sahara to pay an initial deposit of 51.2 billion rupees with SEBI and pay 100 billion rupees in the first week of January and the remainder in the first week of February.
The two Sahara firms raised a total of 257.8 billion rupees in the outlawed bonds as of April 2011, according to Sahara court affidavits cited by SEBI. The companies have argued that only 26.2 billion rupees of that amount remains to be refunded as they have repaid the remainder, SEBI said on Wednesday, an assertion the regulator disputes.
Sahara India Real Estate order: link.reuters.com/sex85t
Sahara Housing order: link.reuters.com/rex85t
The SEBI statement said its order will be implemented with immediate effect and that India's central bank and the finance ministry's Enforcement Directorate would be informed about the development.
The two Sahara group companies were asked by SEBI to give details of any investment other than those mentioned in the order within 21 days, said the order on the regulator's website.
(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy in NEW DELHI and Sumeet Chatterjee in MUMBAI; Editing by Tony Munroe/Mark Heinrich)