The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the arbitral proceedings initiated by former India captain M S Dhoni against the Amrapali group of companies, now a defunct real estate firm for which the cricketer was the brand ambassador, over some financial dispute.
The apex court-appointed forensic auditors had told the bench that Amrapali Group had entered into ”sham agreements” with Rhiti Sports Management Pvt Ltd (RSMPL) which promotes the brand of Dhoni, to ”illegally divert” home buyers’ money and a total amount of Rs 42.22 crore was paid to RSMPL during 2009-2015.
Dhoni had moved to the Delhi High Court which, on October 16, 2019, had appointed its former judge Veena Birbal as sole arbitrator to arbitrate the commercial dispute between the cricketer and the real estate firm.
A bench comprising justices U U Lalit and Bela M Trivedi was on Monday told by the court-appointed receiver about the pending arbitration proceedings between Dhoni and the defunct real estate firms and the difficulties posed to him in pursuing it.
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In the order, the top court noted that to secure the interests of the home buyers, it had taken cognizance of the matters and had appointed a court receiver to ensure that the housing projects are completed well within time and apartments are allotted to the buyers.
“In view of these, it would be extremely difficult for the receiver to defend and take care of such litigations…It cannot be expected that the erstwhile management or anybody else can represent the Amrapali group of companies before the learned sole arbitrator,” the bench said.
Issuing notice to the cricketer, the top court requested Justice Birbal “to hold her hands” and not proceed with the arbitration.
In April 2019, Dhoni had moved the apex court seeking protection of his ownership rights on an over 5,500-square feet penthouse he booked 10 years ago in a project of Amrapali Group.
Lawyer M L Lahoty, who is also associated with the case, said that Dhoni was given a huge sum of money by the real estate firm for being its brand ambassador, and “we had at that stage argued that the amount was to be recovered” and “the issue of retrieving of money is going on in the apex court.” The apex court has been monitoring various housing projects of the defunct real estate group which are now being built by the NBCC.
The top court, in its July 23, 2019, verdict had cracked the whip on errant builders for breaching the trust reposed by home buyers and ordered the cancellation of the registration of Amrapali Group under real estate law RERA and ousted it from prime properties in the NCR by nixing land leases.
Former group directors of Amrapali — Anil Kumar Sharma, Shiv Priya, and Ajay Kumar — are in prison on the top court’s order.
The court had directed a probe by the Enforcement Directorate into alleged money laundering by realtors, providing relief to over 42,000 home buyers of Amrapali Group with the verdict.
The top court, which is trying to bring in funds for the stalled projects, had then directed the state-run NBCC to complete the stalled projects of Amrapali Group.