The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that the debt-ridden Amrapali Group may have diverted money of its customers illegally to a group company linked to cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The court made the statement in its judgement cancelling the registration of the construction group under the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act for committing fraud and siphoning off home buyers’ money.
Dhoni was a brand ambassador of the Amrapali Group between 2009 and 2016. He had sued the realty firm for not clearing dues amounting to Rs 40 crore owed to him. His wife Sakshi Dhoni is a director in group company Amrapali Mahi Developers Private Limited.
While summarising a report submitted by court-appointed forensic auditors Pawan Kumar Aggarwal and Ravinder Bhatia, the judges said Amrapali Group firms and Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited entered into “sham agreements” just for making payments to the latter.
Dhoni, who was then the cricket team captain, had faced controversy in 2013 when reports said he held 15% stake in the sports management firm, raising questions about conflict of interest. However, the company later said he had held stake only briefly. The company is run by Arun Pandey, a close friend of Dhoni. Dhoni is one of the cricketers that the company manages.
Citing one such dubious agreement, the court said, on the basis of the auditors’ findings: “We feel that home buyers’ money has been diverted illegally and wrongly to Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited and should be recovered from them as the said Agreement in our opinion do not stand the test of Law.”
The auditors listed Amrapali Mahi Developers Private Limited in a list of 10 companies that were created by the Amrapali Group “solely for the purpose of routing funds”. “These companies did not have any material transaction as per the main object for which they were incorporated and did not have business since their incorporation,” they said. “These companies did not have any employees also. These companies are shell companies used only to route interest free funds from one company to another.”
According to the autditors, “the company received share capital [from Amrapali Group] in cash and all the expenses were paid in cash only”.
The court passed its judgement after hearing a batch of petitions by home buyers seeking possession of around 42,000 flats booked in the real estate company’s projects in Uttar Pradesh.