Jailed Indian tycoon seeks more time to sell luxury hotels to raise bail money

Jailed Indian tycoon Subrata Roy on Friday asked the Supreme Court for more time to negotiate the sale of three luxury foreign hotels to raise the 100 billion rupees (S$2 billion) he needs to secure bail. -- PHOTO: AFP
Jailed Indian tycoon Subrata Roy on Friday asked the Supreme Court for more time to negotiate the sale of three luxury foreign hotels to raise the 100 billion rupees (S$2 billion) he needs to secure bail. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Jailed Indian tycoon Subrata Roy on Friday asked the Supreme Court for more time to negotiate the sale of three luxury foreign hotels to raise the 100 billion rupees (S$2 billion) he needs to secure bail.

Roy's lawyers told the court that negotiations with one buyer were on the verge of collapse, and the businessman needed extra time for talks with other potential takers.

The court has allowed the head of the Sahara media-to-finance empire to use a conference room at New Delhi's Tihar Jail for a limited period to sell the properties, which include New York's Plaza Hotel and London's Grosvenor House.

But Roy's lawyers said the process had been delayed by reports that the Sultan of Brunei had made a bid to purchase the hotels. The reports had sparked protests in New York because of Brunei's plan to introduce punishments for same-sex acts in the oil-rich East Asian state.

The Sultan of Brunei later dismissed the reports that he had made a US$2 billion bid for the Plaza, Grosvenor House and another Sahara hotel property, the Dream Downtown in New York.

The Supreme Court, which has still to respond to Friday's request, jailed Roy for contempt in March after he missed a court hearing in a long-running row with the capital markets' regulator.

The flamboyant businessman, known for his rags-to-riches story and mansion modelled on the White House, began negotiating with potential buyers on August 5. He needs to raise the 100 billion rupee bail set by the court to win release.

The court has allowed him access to secretaries, video-conferencing and computers to facilitate negotiations.

Roy, who in better times mingled with politicians and movie stars, is sleeping at the conference facilities - a change from his spartan cell in Tihar jail, Asia's biggest prison.

Sahara raised 200 billion rupees from millions of small savers through an illegal bond scheme.

Regulators ordered the group to pay the money back - even though the Supreme Court said there were "serious doubts about the existence" of the investors, a comment that fuelled allegations of money-laundering.

Sahara has always insisted it was only helping poor, mainly rural investors who are hard to locate, while Roy says he has been a victim of "character assassination".