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30 November 2023

F1 Stakes: Sahara to raise $780m to free jailed Force India boss

Sahara Group Chairman Subrata Roy (centre) is escorted by police to a court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, in this file picture taken February 28, 2014. (Reuters)

By Agencies

Force India co-owners Sahara are seeking to sell their stake in the Formula One team as part of efforts to raise cash and free jailed founder Subrata Roy.

India's embattled Sahara conglomerate is close to raising about 53 billion rupees ($780 million) by divesting assets, a lawyer for the group said, as part of its efforts to free Roy.

Roy was arrested in March 2014 after the embattled conglomerate failed to comply with a Supreme Court order to refund money they had raised from millions of small investors through the sale of bonds later ruled to be illegal.

The group has been trying to raise funds since Roy's arrest  to comply with the order to return 360 billion rupees ($5.3 billion).

The British-based Formula One team, co-owned with liquor baron Vijay Mallya, is among the prized assets of the company that is a household name in India as the former main sponsor of the national cricket team.

Other assets include New York's Plaza Hotel, the Grosvenor House in London and Sahara Star hotel in Mumbai.

Gautam Awasthi, a lawyer for Sahara, said in a statement on Tuesday the group had been able to "formalise deals" with regard to three foreign properties which, when closed, would raise about 23 billion rupees ($338.39 million).

Awasthi said Sahara had sought permission from the Supreme Court to sell other assets, including the Sahara Star hotel and the Force India stake, which would raise a combined 30 billion rupees.

Mercedes-powered Force India finished last season in fifth place, out of 10 teams, in the Formula One championship.

They have suffered cash-flow problems, however, and last October requested a $10 million advance on their 2016 championship money to help pay suppliers through the European winter after running into problems a year ago.

Force India's drivers are Mexican Sergio Perez and Germany's Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg.

Mallya, one of India's most-prominent businessmen, has his own troubles in India and is being pursued by banks for loan repayments linked to his grounded Kingfisher Airlines.

Kingfisher has not flown for more than two years and owes more than $1 billion to a consortium of banks, mostly state-owned.

The tycoon talked last November of a possible tie-up with loss-making sportscar maker Aston Martin, with the team name changing.

The team's chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer last month poured cold water on the chances of that happening, however.