From Calcutta to Colombo, a clash – Telegraph India

Kolkata News
A photograph from the website of Safdie Architects shows the Altair project in Colombo

A bunch of top realtors in Calcutta have complained of being taken for a ride in Colombo by a partner in an audacious manner.

Jaideep Halwasiya, a businessman, has been accused of grabbing control of a $300-million real estate project in Sri Lanka called Altair Residences in which five promoters of Calcutta’s South City project have invested, only to find the ground cut from under their feet in an alleged boardroom coup at the Sri Lankan company that was managing the project.

The five realtors had invested 87.5 per cent in Calcutta-based AA Infra Properties while Halwasiya held a 12.5 per cent stake.

In turn, AA Infra Properties had formed a step-down subsidiary in Colombo, called Indocean Developer (Private) Ltd (IDPL). The five realtors from Calcutta are the Emami Group, Pradeep Sureka, Jugal Khetawat, the Merlin group and the Todis of the Shrachi group.

The Telegraph spoke to several people familiar with the project to piece together the developments, which have blown up into a corporate slugfest that has stirred consternation in the city’s business community. But the realtors themselves were reluctant to talk about the dispute because the matter is sub judice.

Halwasiya stands accused of hijacking the project by seizing control of Indocean through a preferential issue of shares to himself and a Dubai-based company owned by his son and two other associates. The preferential share issue effectively reduced the 88 per cent indirect interest that the top five realtors held in the Colombo-based company to a piffling 13 per cent. Halwasiya and his partners held the rest.

The realtors learnt about the unexpected development in Colombo in the middle of November last year. When they rushed to Colombo to assert their rights, they were allegedly barred from entering the project premises.

There were two South City nominees — Sureka and Ram Krishna Agarwal (representing Emami Realty) — on the board of Indocean.

According to one account, they had stepped down of their own volition in line with Lankan regulatory rules that apparently restrict the number of overseas directors on a company’s board.

However, the South City group claims they were removed illegally and that they learnt of Halwasiya’s alleged machinations only when they sought to appoint three more nominees — Jugal Khetawat, Sushil Mohta and Man Mohan Bagree (South City Mall vice-president) — on or about November 15.

The South City promoters claimed that Halwasiya had issued the preferential shares at a low price of 2 Lankan rupees (LKR) per share, compared with the LKR 100 a share that AA Infra had invested in Indocean in 2011.

The preferential share issue raised around LKR 87 million or less than $0.5 million, which is less than the value of an apartment at Altair Residences.

Altair Residences, which has over 400 premium residential apartments in the heart of Colombo and some retail space, has two towers with one leaning on to the other.

It’s being said that the building would be one of the tallest in Colombo when completed. Moshe Safdie, who designed the landmark Marina Bay Sands of Singapore, is the architect of the ocean-view, 69-storey structure.

The dispute among the investors has led to a rash of court cases in India and Sri Lanka. Battles are also raging on social media platforms.

AA Infra removed Halwasiya from the board of AA Infra Properties Pvt Ltd by calling an extraordinary general meeting on January 4, 2020.

Halwasiya challenged the move before the National Company Law Tribunal, Calcutta, which did not grant him interim relief in the form of reinstating him on the board of AA Infra Properties.

The South City promoters have petitioned a commercial high court in Colombo, challenging the removal of the directors and the issuance of fresh shares at Indocean.

They have accused the other camp of diverting funds from a bank loan meant for the project, which is running two years behind schedule. The rival camp has denied the charge and levelled the same charge at the partners.

So far, about 275 units have been sold, raising $180 million from buyers. Both sides say their priority is to complete the prestigious project, protect India’s name on foreign soil and abide by the promises they have made to the buyers.