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West Asian giant in talks to buy Sahara's majority stake in US hotels

Sahara maintains that it has already refunded more than 95 per cent of investors' money

Press Trust of India 

Plaza Hotel
Plaza Hotel. The 1907 property has been featured in novels like The Great Gatsby and numerous films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

Embattled group is in talks with a large West Asian enterprise for sale of its majority stake in two prime hotels -- including the iconic Plaza which was once owned by Donald Trump -- estimated to command a billion-dollar valuation.

holds 85 per cent in New York's Dream Downtown hotel and 70 per cent in the Plaza, where Trump -- then a real estate tycoon and owner of the luxurious property -- married his second wife Marla Maples in December 1993.

Name of the interested buyer from Middle East could not be ascertained but those having shown interest earlier include a Qatar-based sovereign investment fund and also some investors from China and the US.

Sources said talks are underway and could be concluded soon for sale of stake in the two hotels held by Sahara, which is raising funds by selling various assets in India and abroad for depositing money in a special investor refund account set up under Supreme Court orders.

Market sources pegged the combined estimated valuation of the two hotels, which were acquired by in 2012 in two separate transactions within months, to be in excess of $1 billion in a sale deal despite the depressed real estate sector.

The 110-year-old Plaza is situated off Central Park and its ownership has changed hands several times. The hotel, which has 282 rooms in addition to several high-end condos, restaurants and shops, hosted the famous Plaza Accord to devalue the US dollar in 1985.

When contacted, a group spokesperson declined to disclose any deal value at this stage or the name of the interested buyer but confirmed that the talks are underway with a Middle-East entity.

"is in process of selling (stake in two US hotels) to one large enterprise of Middle East. We would not be able to share the deal value at this stage," the spokesperson told PTI in reply to queries in this regard.

Asked about reports that Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp, a New York-based investment and development company, along with Plaza's minority owner Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Arabia looking to buyout from the property, the spokesperson said, "The pertaining to one M/s Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp buying out stake is completely wrong." Queries mailed to Kingdom Hotel Investments, a holding company for the prince, remained unanswered.

There have also been reports in the US media that has roped in real estate consultancy major JLL to find a buyer for its stake in the Plaza, which alone can fetch around USD 500 million. JLL did not reply to queries on this.

The group, which was asked to deposit over Rs 24,000 crore in the special account managed by regulator Sebi, has maintained it has already refunded more than 95 per cent of investors' money directly.

As per latest disclosures by the regulator and statements from group, Sebi has refunded about Rs 100 crore from the special account, estimated to have about Rs 15,000 crore of deposited money and interest earned, to the investors who have filed their claims.

Earlier this month, a Supreme Court ordered auction process also began for group's luxurious Aamby Valley resort town with the official liquidator inviting bids at a reserve price of Rs 37,392 crore.

Sahara, which pegs the project's market valuation at over Rs 1 lakh crore, however said the liquidator has initiated only first two steps of the auction by issuing advertisement for interested bidders and verifying their KYC details and the sale would be withdrawn if Rs 1,500 crore is deposited before the next date of hearing in the Supreme Court.

The property, described by the liquidator as an "ultra- exclusive chartered city", includes timber chalets, modern villas, golf course, hospital, school and airport, among other amenities.

First Published: Sun, August 27 2017. 16:27 IST