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Supreme Court again rejects Sahara chief Roy's bail plea

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday once again rejected a bail plea by the chief of the Sahara conglomerate, who has been held in jail for three months over his group’s failure to repay investors who bought bonds that were later ruled to be illegal.

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Sahara Chairman Subrata Roy has been in a Delhi jail since March 4 after failing to appear at a contempt hearing in a long-running legal battle between his group and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

The court - which on Wednesday said Sahara’s liability was between 330 and 350 billion rupees ($5.6-$5.9 billion) - had asked Sahara to deposit 100 billion rupees initially to secure the release of Roy on bail.

Sahara, a household name in India as the former main sponsor of the national cricket team, has so far failed to do so. The court had previously refused Roy bail on four occasions after rejecting various proposals from the company, including one to pay the money in instalments.

In their ruling on Wednesday, however, the judges allowed the group to raise funds by liquidating its bank deposits, bonds and securities worth about 25 billion rupees, according to a copy of the judgment.

Sahara can also sell its real estate assets in nine Indian cities, estimated to be valued at about 25 billion rupees, the judges said, lifting an earlier freeze.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ordered Sahara to repay, with interest, all investors who subscribed to bonds sold by two of its businesses, saying the company had not met with SEBI rules for public issues and the process was “dubious”.

While Sahara says it has repaid most of the money and that the remaining sum owed is about 25 billion rupees, the Supreme Court and the SEBI have disputed that.

Sahara, whose assets include the landmark Plaza hotel in New York and Grosvenor House in London, last month offered to sell its three overseas hotels to meet the payment demands. The court said it had sought more information from Sahara, including approval from Bank of China, with which the assets are pledged.

Sahara said after the court order on Wednesday that it was “thankful” for the clearances of bank accounts and certain properties, reiterating that it had already paid most investors.

Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Pravin Char