As many as over 1.96mn (million) investors of PACL Ltd, with a claim of up to Rs17,000, have received more than Rs919 crore, says market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
The justice RM Lodha committee is supervising the Supreme Court (SC)-ordered process of selling PACL's assets across the country and refunding Rs49,100 crore collected from over 55mn investors.
"As on 8 May 2023, the committee has successfully effected refunds in respect of 19,61,690 eligible applications with outstanding (principal) amount up to Rs17,000 aggregating to Rs919.91 crore," SEBI says.
In February this year, the committee had called for original PACL certificates from eligible investors with a principal outstanding between Rs15,000 and Rs17,000. However, considering the difficulties faced by investors in submitting original certificates, the Lodha committee decided to pay the outstanding for eligible applicants identified after verification. Accordingly, it paid Rs85.68 crore to 114,933 eligible applicants whose principal outstanding from PACL was between Rs15,000 and Rs17,000.
SEBI says, "Investors are further informed that the last date of submission of original PACL certificates has expired and accordingly, investors are requested not to send their original certificates till further direction of the committee."
SEBI's investigations had earlier revealed that PACL, which had raised money from the public in the name of agriculture and real estate businesses, collected more than Rs60,000 crore through illegal collective investment schemes (CISs) over 18 years. Moneylife
had extensively reported on the PACL scam and you can read it here
In February 2019, the committee headed by retired justice Lodha had initiated the process of refunds in phases for investors who had invested in PACL. PACL (or Pearls) is one of India's largest Ponzi schemes, which had been allowed to run for decades amassing over Rs60,000 crore. The committee had asked PACL investors to submit online applications for a refund.
The mobilisation of funds by PACL goes back before 1997. Upon receipt of a complaint, SEBI on 30 November 1999 and 10 December 1999 issued letters asking PACL to comply with the provisions of the collective investment scheme (CIS) regulations.
In September 2018, the enforcement directorate (ED) filed a charge-sheet against PACL and its chief Nirmal Singh Bhangoo, concerning a Ponzi scam involving over Rs49,100 crore, which was collected allegedly by two companies from millions of investors. The ED, which started the probe after lodging a first information report (FIR) in 2015 based on the central bureau of investigation (CBI)'s case, had, in January 2018, attached Australia-based assets of the Pearls group and Mr Bhangoo worth Rs472 crore.
Mr Bhangoo, his companies PACL and Pearls Golden Forest Ltd (PGFL), as well as several thousands of his commission agents, were accused of cheating 55mn investors on the pretext of the sale and development of agricultural land.
The companies made false allotments of land to investors. However, the companies never owned any land in their own name.
Mr Bhangoo and his companies promised the investors that allotment would be done on their investment between 90 and 270 days and, if not, handsome returns would be paid.