Relief for Sahara: US court rejects plea for attachment of two hotels

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New York: In a relief to Sahara, a US court has rejected a plea seeking to attach the Indian group’s prized Plaza and Dream Downtown hotels here.

Hong Kong-based JTS Trading had approached the court seeking the attachment as part of its USD 350-million lawsuit against UAE-based Trinity White City Ventures, Sahara group and Swiss banking giant UBS over a deal that went sour.

While hearings will continue on the lawsuit, the Supreme Court of the State of New York has said that “the application of plaintiff JTS Trading Ltd for a pre-judgement order of attachment is denied”.

“We welcome the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision which understood our claims in the pious light of justice and protected us from becoming a victim of unscrupulous litigation which aimed at falsely and unfairly dragging us into a private dispute between two parties who have had a falling out,” a Sahara group spokesperson said in a statement.

Sahara, along with the two others, was dragged into the lawsuit filed by JTS Trading, which claims that it had proposed to partner Trinity and arrange loans from UBS to acquire Sahara’s three overseas hotels – Grosvenor House in London and the two in the US.

JTS has alleged that Trinity cut it off from the estimated USD 1.5 billion deal for direct negotiations with Sahara.

It accused Sahara and UBS of having “aided and abetted” Trinity in breaching its “fiduciary duties” under their agreement. JTS also filed an application before the court seeking a ‘pre-judgement order of attachment’ of Sahara group’s interest in the two hotels in the US.

Seeking an immediate rejection of the attachment plea, Sahara submitted before the court that the “plaintiff is attempting to attach property that falls outside of the jurisdiction of this Court” and the assets did not belong to the parties of the case.

After looking into the oral and written submissions of JTS and Sahara in the matter, the court has now said in an order dated September 14 that “JTS fails to establish entitlement to attach assets of the non-parties”.

“JTS’ only claim in support of attaching non-party interests is that it is entitled to pierce the corporate veil to reach these assets,” the court order said while adding that JTS however failed to establish an entitlement to pierce the corporate veil.

In its application, JTS had argued that Sahara India owns the Plaza and Dream Downtown hotels through a “convoluted chain of wholly owned and dominated alter-ego subsidiaries” and the group intended to sell these properties and repatriate the funds to India to use the money for securing release of the group’s chief Subrata Roy from jail.

However, the Indian group told the court that it was wrongly dragged into the dispute between two entities — JTS and Trinity — over “a potential business relationship gone sour”.

It also argued that JTS was seeking attachment of properties of ‘non-parties’ to the case against whom it had made no complaints. Among others, JTS has filed the case against Aamby Mauritius (an entity from the Sahara group) and Sahara India Pariwar.

Opposing JTS’ plea, Sahara further said it did not “meet the standard required to pierce the corporate veil, as JTS can not demonstrate that any subsidiary was used in the commission of a wrong that harmed the plaintiff”.

Agreeing to Sahara’s arguments, the court also ruled that JTS has failed to establish the entitlement to piercing the corporate veil and rejected the attachment plea.

Last month, the Indian group announced that it has reached a deal with another party, Reuben Brothers, for transfer of its existing debt from Bank of China on the three hotels – thus averting a ‘default-triggered’ sale of the iconic Grosvenor House hotel in London.

The Grosvenor House hotel was put on sale by its lender Bank of China earlier this year after a ‘technical default’.

Sahara Group has been trying to raise funds to secure release of its Chairman Subrata Roy, who has been lodged in Tihar Jail for over a year, through monetisation of its various assets, including the three overseas hotels that it had purchased between 2010 and 2012 for USD 1.55 billion.

The group has been engaged in a legal battle with markets regulator SEBI for a long time over a case involving raising of funds from investors to the tune of over Rs 24,000 crore.

Sahara, however, claims that it has already repaid 95 percent of the investors money directly.

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