The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Delhi High Court order, which stayed the investigation into companies related to the Sahara Group and also the lookout circulars issued against its chief Subrata Roy and his wife.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Bela M. Trivedi said the high court order was unwarranted and also it passed an extraordinary order staying the investigation. On May 17, the top court had agreed to list a plea by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) challenging the Delhi High Court order.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the SFIO, submitted that total money involved is Rs 1 lakh crore and considering layers and layers of companies involved, the probe could not be completed in three months and it took more time.
“We issued a look out circular so that they do not flee the country…”.
Mehta also took objection to the high court order staying the lookout circulars issued against the directors, promoters, and employees of the companies, so that they won’t flee the country.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Sahara Group, submitted that the Companies Act 2013, is not applicable to the transaction which occurred in 2011, which SFIO is seeking to investigate. He added that the investigation under Section 219 of the Act, is without legal basis and also there is no prima facie materials against the firms.
Citing the 2012 top court judgment, Sibal said Sahar Housing Corporation Ltd. has deposited Rs 24,000 crore with market regulator, SEBI.
A plea by the SFIO, a statutory corporate fraud investigating agency, said: “The petitioner SFIO has filed the captioned petition against the final judgement of the Delhi High Court dated December 13, 2021, whereby the high court erroneously granted interim relief to respondents 1 to 3 by staying the operation, implementation, and execution of the investigation orders dated October 31, 2018 and October 27, 2020 passed by the Central government and stayed all subsequent actions and proceedings initiated pursuant thereof including coercive proceedings and look out notices issued against the respondents.”
After hearing arguments, the top court said the Delhi High Court was not correct in staying the investigation at interim stage.
“We allow appeals and set aside the high court order on stay…,” said the bench.
The top court also clarified that this order will have no bearing on merits of the writ petitions pending before the high court.
In a statement, the Sahara Group said: “The Supreme Court has ordered that the issues raised by Sahara companies before the high court in writ petitions will be decided on merits by high court without getting influenced by observation of Supreme Court. It has been clarified by Supreme Court that the observations are only relatable to the interim order granting stay of investigation and not on merits of the issues involved.”
The SFIO, in its plea against the Delhi High Court order, said: “It is submitted by way of the order, all actions and proceedings undertaken under the orders dated October 31, 2018 and October 27, 2020, passed by the Central government have been stayed which seriously prejudice the ongoing investigations and proceedings which necessitated urgent listing of the captioned petitions,” added the SFIO’s plea.
It further added that high court order was passed by ignoring the material facts available on record, and sought stay on high court order.
The high court had observed that petitioners Sahara Housing Investment Corporation Ltd and others have made out a prima facie case for the grant of interim relief. It further added that the balance of convenience was also in their favour, and irreparable loss would be caused to them, if interim relief is not granted. The high court had asked the Central government to file its response to the petition.
The petitioners — Saharas firm and others — had submitted before the high court that the first order was passed on October 31, 2018, for investigation into the affairs of three companies — Sahara Q Shop Unique Products Range Ltd, Sahara Q Gold Mart Ltd, and Sahara Housing Investment Corporation Ltd.
The petitioners further contended that perusal of the October 27, 2020 revealed that no reason was assigned, why it was necessary to begin an investigation against the six companies.
These companies are: Aamby Valley Ltd, Qing Amby City Developers Corporation Ltd, Sahara India Commercial Corporation Ltd, Sahara Prime City Ltd, Sahara India Financial Corporation Ltd and Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd.