India is said to order three-month probe into Fortis, Religare

Fortis Healthcare Bannerghatta, one of two hospitals operated and managed by Religare Health Trust. PHOTO: RELIGARE HEALTHCARE TRUST

NEW DELHI (Bloomberg) - India has ordered its fraud office to inquire into reports of alleged siphoning of cash at Fortis Healthcare Ltd. and Religare Enterprises Ltd. by Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh, who are part of the founding family of both companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

The government asked the Serious Fraud Investigation Office, or SFIO, to submit its probe report in three months, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private.

The investigation will also look to identify beneficiaries if funds were diverted, the people said.

Fortis has not got any communication about a probe, it said in a stock exchange filing on Monday. Religare has not received any communication and has no knowledge of an investigation against the company, it said in an e-mailed statement.

The Singh brothers took at least five billion rupees (US$78 million) out of the publicly-traded hospital company they control without board approval about a year ago, Bloomberg News reported on Feb 9, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The Singhs were also accused of "diversion, siphoning and digression of assets" at Religare by New York-based Siguler Guff & Co. in a lawsuit filed in the High Court of Delhi.

Religare had said at the time the allegations were baseless and denied any wrongdoing. Fortis said on Feb. 9 the company loaned 4.73 billion rupees in the normal course of treasury operations, and these entities became part of the founders' group of Fortis as of the quarter ended on Dec 31 due to a shareholding change.

The loans have since been recognized as related-party transactions and repayment has commenced.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, a statutory body that oversees auditors, will be asked to look into Fortis and Religare after the SFIO submits its report, the people said.

The Times of India newspaper earlier on Monday reported that the SFIO has been asked to investigate the two companies.

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