NEW DELHI Aug 25 Indian property developer PACL said it would appeal a regulator's order to return at least $8.1 billion to investors in a land-for-funds scheme, as depositors went to the company's New Delhi office to demand their money back.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on Friday ordered unlisted PACL to refund the money within three months, after ruling that the company's investment schemes had not been registered with the capital markets regulator.
PACL on Monday assured investors that their deposits were safe while saying its scheme - which promised depositors returns on investments in agricultural land - did not have to be registered.
"We assure our customers that their investments are safe and their interests would not be jeopardized," PACL said in a statement
PACL is also being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for what India's top crime-fighting agency has described as "an alleged scam" for raising money from millions of investors under the guise of the sale and development of agricultural land.
SEBI in its order on Friday said PACL's land holdings did not cover the amount of money raised from investors. The company denied that on Monday, saying it had "sufficient asset holdings".
Companies such as PACL operate in a regulatory grey area that has developed because almost half of India's more than a billion people do not have access to formal banking. But regulators fear this makes investors vulnerable to unregulated investment schemes.
Last year, Kolkata-based Saradha Group was ordered to return $3.7 billion after running a deposit scheme that went bust.
About a dozen investors and agents gathered at PACL's main office in Delhi as three security officers guarded the entrance.
Vijender Kumar, a 24-year-old in the nursing sector, said he had come from the outskirts of Delhi after reading about PACL in a newspaper since his father had invested 60,000 rupees over five years until 2013.
Kumar said he was forced to take a loan to treat his ailing mother after PACL did not return his deposit last year on maturity even after visiting his local PACL branch 10 times. He said PACL had given a slew of reasons, including blaming regulators for freezing the deposits.
"We feel duped," Kumar said. "This money means a lot for us."
No PACL official was available to answer Reuters queries in the Delhi office. ($1 = 60.5650 Indian rupees) (Additional reporting by Himank Sharma in MUMBAI; Writing by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Rafael Nam and Michael Urquhart)