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India from London. Radia made her entry in 1995 as a liaison officer in the Sahara Group and one of the initial success stories of the woman who would become a high-profile PR professional was with Sahara Airlines.
If Roy has had time to reflect on the past these few days since his arrest, one date would have stood out — September 29, 2009. On that day, Sahara Prime City filed its draft red herring prospectus (DRHP) with SEBI, seeking the go-ahead for an initial public offering. On Page No. 640 in the 934-page offer document, Sahara Prime City had an innocuous mention of some tax-related issues, which included a Rs 35.57 crore dispute with the income tax department over accepting OFCDs (or optionally fully convertible debentures) from investors by way of cash, instead of cheques or demand drafts as mandated. SEBI dispatched a routine query to merchant bankers.
When the Sahara Group dithered on furnishing the information, officers in SEBI’s head office in Mumbai decided to investigate further, leading to the collapse of what many call a house of cards.
The first questions about Sahara’s operations were raised back in 1996. In December that year, the Lucknow income tax department asked the group to give details of deposits made by some people allegedly in Sahara’s schemes. Many of the names forwarded by the department were those of politicians. The group promptly issued advertisements in newspapers, putting out the names and asking those people to get back so that their antecedents could be “verified”. The ruse worked — the IT officer who initiated the inquiry, Prasenjit Singh (then assistance commissioner of Income tax, central circle III, Lucknow), was transferred.
Unlike 1996, Sahara would run into more resolute adversaries in the RBI and SEBI a decade later. In 2008, RBI ordered Sahara India Financial Corp Ltd not to accept fresh deposits and wind up the
Rs 20,000 crore of public deposits it had over the next seven years. Sahara responded by converting these deposits into OFCDs, not really expecting that it would have to grapple with another formidable government regulator — SEBI.
The angle of political or corporate rivalry behind the case has always existed. Two seemingly isolated events were instrumental in SEBI being alerted to the September 2009 filing of the DRHP by Sahara Prime City. On January 4, 2010, a certain Roshan Lal, who claimed to be an Indore-based chartered accountant, sent a letter