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June 26, 2017

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Jailed Indian tycoon seeks buyers for hotels

NEW DELHI--Indian tycoon Subrata Roy, seeking to raise US$1.6 billion to win release from jail, has "interested" potential buyers for his iconic foreign properties that include New York's Plaza Hotel, a company official said on Saturday.

The Supreme Court on Friday gave the flamboyant founder of India's Sahara media-to-finance empire "10 working days" to use a special conference room at New Delhi's sprawling Tihar Jail complex "to negotiate sale of three foreign properties."

Up for grabs are two famous hotels — New York's Plaza Hotel and Grosvenor House in London — along with the Dream Downtown in New York, that Roy purchased to accumulate a luxury accommodation portfolio.

"There are people interested in the properties, we can't say more," the Sahara India Pariwar official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Supreme Court jailed Roy, known for his rags-to-riches story and mansion modelled on the US White House, in March after he missed a court appearance in a long-running row with security regulators.

Roy needs to raise 100-billion-rupee (US$1.6 billion) bail set by the court to obtain his freedom.

Indian media reports say Indian pharmaceutical billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla and U.S.-based Madison Capital Holdings may be interested in the properties.

The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice T.S. Thakur allowed Roy and two jailed company directors three secretaries, video-conferencing and computers to facilitate sale negotiations.

The three men will sleep at the conference facilities and be allowed to work from six in the morning until eight at night to allow for international time differences.

Sahara raised 200 billion rupees (US$3.2 billion) 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, fuelling long-running allegations of money-laundering.

Sahara has always denied the allegations and insisted the company was only helping poor, mainly rural investors who are hard to locate.

"These hotels are on the block and whether they will be sold or whether they will enter into another arrangement with an investor they will only say at a later stage," Roy's lawyer, Harish Salve, told reporters separately.

Roy, who always appears in court dapperly dressed in suit and tie, acquired a 75-percent stake in the Plaza in 2012 just as his legal woes were mounting.

The three hotels are valued at a total of around US$1.6 billion, according to a valuation cited by the Supreme Court.

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