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.
Sahara said in a statement that its total liability was unlikely to exceed the 51.2 billion rupees it had deposited with the regulator.
It also said it had appealed the Supreme Court's December order to deposit additional money with the regulator and that a hearing is likely next week.
Sahara owns the Grosvenor House hotel in London, and last year struck a deal to buy the Plaza Hotel in New York.
The group 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 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.
In December the court ordered Sahara to pay an initial deposit of 51.2 billion rupees with SEBI, pay another 100 billion rupees in the first week of January and the remainder in the first week of February.
The companies have said that only 26.2 billion rupees remains to be refunded as they have repaid the remainder, SEBI said, an assertion the regulator disputes.
Sahara said in its statement that the SEBI order did not take into account redemptions it has made since January 2012.
Sahara India Real Estate order: link.reuters.com/sex85t
Sahara Housing order: link.reuters.com/rex85t
The SEBI statement said its order would 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 to give details of any investment other than those mentioned in the order within 21 days, according to the order on the regulator's website.
(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy in NEW DELHI and Sumeet Chatterjee in MUMBAI; Editing by Tony Munroe and Jane Baird)