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India court gives Sahara more time to repay bond investors

By Suchitra Mohanty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court gave the Sahara conglomerate more time to repay billions of dollars it had raised from investors through bond sales that were later ruled to be illegal.

The court on Wednesday asked Sahara to make an initial deposit of 51.2 billion rupees ($937 million) with the capital markets regulator and pay the remainder in two installments in January and February. Sahara has estimated the total payout to be about $7 billion including interest.

Unlisted Sahara, one of India's biggest business groups and a household name through its sponsorship of the national cricket team, was ordered on August 31 to repay within 90 days sums raised by what the court called "dubious" means from nearly 30 million small investors, with 15 percent interest a year.

The top court had asked Sahara to deposit the amount with the capital markets regulator. It had also ordered Sahara to submit detailed documents with the regulator if it had refunded any money collected through the so-called optionally fully convertible debentures to investors.

The case was back in court after the regulator said Sahara had not complied with the order, while Sahara argued the regulator "deliberately refused" to accept documents and information submitted by it.

"You are in default. It seems that you have chosen not to pay the money," the Supreme Court told Sahara on Wednesday, according to Gopal Subramaniam, a lawyer who represented Sahara in the case.

"Tell us whether you are ready to pay the amount or not? Don't say sorry. Say I will deposit the amount," the court told Sahara, according to the lawyer, as it gave extra time.

Sahara said in newspaper advertisements on Saturday it had "cleared" about 330 billion rupees raised through the bonds and had maximum outstanding liability of 51.2 billion rupees, which it was ready to deposit with the authorities.

India's capital markets regulator issued advertisements in late October saying it had received complaints from investors that they were being forced by agents and officials of Sahara to switch the money held through the bonds to other investment products sold by the group.

Sahara had no immediate comment on the court ruling. The company, whose interests range from finance to real estate to sports, recently bought New York's Plaza Hotel, and had earlier bought the Grosvenor House hotel in London.

Sahara, which has sought a review of the August order, said on Saturday its total group assets have a book value of $14 billion. The Supreme Court is yet to give its verdict on that review.

($1 = 54.6400 Indian rupees)

(Writing by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Tony Munroe and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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