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Why Is Subrata Roy Not Eager to Get Out of Jail? The Sahara Case Gets Curiouser

Security officials escort India’s Sahara group chairman Subrata Roy (C) on his arrival at the Supreme Court in New Delhi on March 4, 2014. Roy was arrested after he failed to respond to the Supreme Court’s summons to appear in court in connection with the case in which Sahara owes millions of investors over 22,000 crore Indian rupees (3.5 billion dollars). AFP PHOTO/Prakash SINGH (Photo credit: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Roy’s case is curious for several reasons and raises many questions:

    Why is Roy not paying up despite having the assets worth Rs 1.8 lakh Crore?

    Why is Roy not eager at all to get out of jail?

    Why is the Supreme Court itself not doing the obvious: that is, put the group under a receiver/administrator, who can then inventory the properties, sell the ones which are unencumbered, collect the dues, and then let Roy go free?

    Given that prima facie Roy has defied the court (that’s why he is in jail), why has the court not convicted him for contempt?

    Why is there complete radio silence in political circles in Roy’s case? Why has no politician condemned Roy when they are willing to chase Mallya to the end of the earth? Is it because Roy knows too much about them?

The Sahara case is getting curiouser and curiouser. Jailbird Subrata Roy, bossman of the Sahara group, has been in Tihar for more than two years but is showing no eagerness to come out. The Supreme Court is exasperated but has not found a way to make him pay his bail amount and get out. Politicians are quiet, despite being on bum-chum terms with Roy. Sebi has been twiddling its thumbs on Roy, attending court hearing after court hearing, without anything to show for its patience.

What gives? Roy has been in jail since 4 March 2014 for failing to comply with a Supreme Court order of August 2012 asking him to refund over Rs 24,000 crore raised illegally by two Sahara group companies. With interest piling up due to non-compliance, Roy’s bill has shot up to over Rs 36,000 crore now. And counting. (Read what the Sahara case is all about here)

After failing to pay up and evading the court’s orders for more than 18 months, an angry Supreme Court ordered his arrest and said he could be released only on a bail amount of Rs 10,000 crore – half in cash, and the rest by way of a bank guarantee.

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But between 4 March 2014, when he was arrested, and 29 March 2016, Roy could not (or would not) cobble up the sum despite claiming assets of more than Rs 1.8 lakh crore. At the latest hearing, Roy’s lawyer Kapil Sibal claimed the court had no business keeping Roy locked up, saying nowhere in the world could courts do this.

But the court, according to a report in The Times of India, rebutted him: “Nowhere in the world a person says that I have assets worth Rs 187,000 crore. I can pay any time but is not paying Rs 10,000 crore.”

To get over this problem, the court asked Sebi to dispose of Sahara’s unencumbered properties, with the aid of the court-appointed overseer, ex-judge BN Agrawal. But this could take months, if not years.

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The case is curious for several reasons. The questions still to be answered are:

First, why is Roy not paying up despite having the assets? One reason could be an obstinate ego – the same ego that made him decline to pay up Rs 24,000-and-odd crore to Sebi for ultimate repayment to genuine investors. Most of those investors turned out to be non-existent in a Sebi survey.

So one possibility is that the money is not his to pay. It may be benami money, and cannot be paid to random investors who may or may not exist. Both Sebi and the Supreme Court have raised this suspicion, and surely they don’t believe Roy when he says he has already repaid his investors and hence does not have to pay it again to Sebi.

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Second, why is Roy not eager at all to get out of jail? For a man who has friends in high places (among politicians, Bollywood heroes, and cricketers) it should not have been difficult for him to arrange finances from them, or even ask them to lend the money against collateral for repayment after he is out. Why didn’t he do so? Is it because he felt safer in jail, especially since some of his hidden investors may have tough questions to ask him when he gets out?

Third, why is the Supreme Court itself not doing the obvious: that is, put the group under a receiver/administrator, who can then inventory the properties, sell the ones which are unencumbered, collect the dues, and then let Roy go free? If this had been done in March 2014, when Roy was arrested, the process would have been over by now. Why has the court not used this simple way out? At the last hearing, it did entertain the idea of appointing a receiver, but had not taken a final call. This is exactly what needs to be done. But why did the penny not drop in more than two years of fruitless hearings, when the court itself had reason to disbelieve Roy’s claims on his investors?

Fourth, why has the court now tossed the ball back to Sebi, by asking it to sell the properties and give Roy bail? How can Sebi, a regulator, be playing the role of a real estate auctioneer?

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Fifth, given that prima facie Roy has defied the court (that’s why he is in jail), why has the court not convicted him for contempt, especially when Sahara issued full-page ads at one stage questioning the court’s orders in his case? Why is the Supreme Court reluctant to nail him for contempt, and put his properties into receivership and be done with it?

Sixth, why is there complete radio silence in political circles in Roy’s case? Not one politician has spoken about him, when everyone and the dog at the lamp-post has done so in the case of Vijay Mallya, who, after all, is just a loan defaulter. Why has no politician condemned Roy when they are willing to chase Mallya to the end of the earth? Is it because Roy knows too much about them?

It is clear that Roy’s is a case of the emperor without clothes, but no one is willing to call this out. The justice and regulatory system will not come out of this smelling of roses.

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The Supreme Court delivered its final verdict on 31 August 2012. It is now 31 March 2016. Surely, three years and eight months are enough to bring someone to justice?

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