It may not be a Premium Suite with ‘idyllic’ views over Hyde Part at London’s favourite British-Asian hotel but as far as Indian jails go, it’s mighty close.
Subrata Roy, the disgraced owner of the Grosvenor House hotel in Mayfair – as well as even plusher Plaza hotel in New York – is making preparations to sell off the two iconic properties from his ‘upgraded’ jail cell at Tihar, South Asia’s largest jail.
Roy has set up a 600 sq ft ‘operations centre’ adjacent to the headquarters of the prison with full video conferencing and WiFi facilities as he tries to sell or mortgage the hotels to raise the $1.6 billion he requires to get bail.
The facility also includes a separate room with three beds for Roy and two other jailed senior associates from the Sahara Group, the sprawling conglomerate that once sponsored the Indian cricket team and through which Roy is accused of defrauding thousands of investors in a multi-billion dollar bond investment scam.
One Tihar official told Reuters that the executives are “satisfied” with the arrangements put in place by the prison – on the orders of the Indian Supreme Court – whilst the remaining 12,000 inmates have to make do inside cells with double the recommended occupancy and infested with rats and cockroaches.
It’s a race against time for Roy, 66.
Under a deadline set by the Supreme Court, Roy has just a few days left to post the 100 billion rupees in cash and bank guarantees that would secure his release.
The only higher bail ever appears to be a $3 billion bond set by a judge in Texas in 2004 for a wealthy fugitive, although that was reduced to $450,000 on appeal.
Roy was jailed in March after he failed to appear at a contempt hearing in the long-running dispute with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) over the company’s failure to repay billions of dollars to investors who were sold outlawed bonds.
He is yet to be charged over the dispute and denies any wrongdoing.
The Sahara Group has vast real estate, media and hotel interests and part-owns the Force India Formula One team so raising the cash might not pose a problem.
One asset that could raise quick cash is the landmark New York Plaza Hotel – a 107-year-old luxury property that overlooks Central Park. Studded with chandeliers, the hotel’s decor recalls the Great Gatsby era.
Jointly owned with the Saudi Arabia-based Kingdom Holdings, the Plaza offers an overdose of luxury for guests in its 282 rooms, from round-the-clock butlers to in-room iPads for booking a restaurant or requesting a wake-up call.
Its 4,490 square-foot Royal Suite has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a dining room for 12, a kitchen, a gymnasium, a grand piano and a library. It costs $30,000 a night.
Sahara bought the Plaza for about $570 million in 2012.
Two years earlier, it paid 470 million pounds ($790 million) for the 494-room Grosvenor House opposite Hyde Park.
Opened in 1929, the hotel is popular with the British Asian community, particularly during ‘Awards’ season.
The property’s vast Great Room is one of Europe’s largest banqueting halls and can seat 2,000 guests.
Sahara is also seeking to sell the Dream Hotel in New York’s midtown Manhattan.
In Tihar, the office given to Roy is under round-the-clock video surveillance, with people allowed to visit from 6 am to 8 pm.
Roy received four or five visitors on one day last week and local media said they included representatives of prospective buyers.
“All options are being explored. It can be an outright sale or mortgage lien. Phone calls are being made to interested parties, and things will become clear by early (this) week,” said a source with direct knowledge of Sahara’s position.
“The response has been good so far. There have been some inquiries by investment funds in the Middle East and other places,” said the source, declining to give names of the bidders who have shown interest.
The Supreme Court has given Roy 10 working days from Aug. 5 to complete any sales, setting a deadline of Monday although that time frame may not suffice given the lengthy process involved in selling off a multi-million pound asset.
One of Sahara’s main businesses is the sale of financial products, largely to small investors in towns and rural areas. It was two such products, later ruled illegal, that caught the attention of SEBI.
Roy has often been photographed with senior politicians, cricketers and Bollywood stars.
Based in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Roy calls himself “managing worker and chairman” of Sahara and chief guardian of the “world’s biggest family”, overseeing businesses with almost a million staff and agents.
Industry consultants said trying to sell the hotels from inside a prison was unlikely to dampen the appetite of buyers for the prestigious New York and London hotels.