PACL: Refunds up to Rs2,500 each paid to 1.13 lakh investors by Lodha Committee
Moneylife Digital Team 11 October 2018
Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) said the Justice RM Lodha Committee appointed by the Supreme Court has paid up to Rs2,500 each to 1,13,352 investors of PACL Ltd (erstwhile Pearls), who had filed the claims in prescribed forms.
In a release, SEBI said, "The Committee, in pursuance of its mandate started the process of receipt of claim applications, at the first instance, from investors having claims of not more than Rs2,500. The said process was open till 31 March 2018.
"...the Committee has started remitting refunds to investors after verification of the claim applications as received. Till date refunds in respect of 1,13,352 claim applications have been credited to the bank accounts provided by the investors in the claim applications,' it added.
Last month, the Australian Federal Court had accepted claim filed by SEBI on assets of PACL in that country. The Australian Federal Court also stated that as per three orders passed by Supreme Court of India, SEBI Act, SEBI Regulations, the Indian market regulator has full right, interest, power and authority to seek relief in Australia in the PACL case.
After observing that the money mobilised by PACL from investors was utilised for acquiring certain assets in Australia, as directed by Justice RM Lodha Committee, SEBI had filed a claim petition in the Federal Court of Australia seeking repatriation of the assets or the proceeds thereof on behalf of all the investors in PACL.
During September 2018, the Enforcement Directorate had filed a charge sheet against PACL (erstwhile Pearls) and its chief Nirmal Singh Bhangoo in connection with a Ponzi scam involving over Rs49,100 crore, which was collected allegedly by two companies from 5.5 crore investors.
Apart from Bhangoo, who is in judicial custody, his three colleagues and other persons have also been named in the ED chargesheet filed in a special court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
In 2016, a report from The Australian had exposed the Australian connection of PACL and Bhangoo. This was published by Moneylife (Read: PACL Scam: The Australian connection). The report said, in Australia, Bhangoo and several of his family members teamed up with Gold Coast property developers Paul Brinsmead and Peter Madrers. The two Australians had operated the company Resort Corp, which developed large tracts of coastal land in the Tweed Shire in northern NSW before its group of 14 companies collapsed in March 2009, owing about $300 million, it said. 
The ED, which started the probe after lodging an first information report (FIR) in 2015 based on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)'s case, had in January attached Australia-based assets of the Pearls Group and Bhangoo worth Rs472 crore. 
On the refund claims from PACL investors, in January this year, SEBI has clarified that the refund may not necessarily be Rs2,500 per claimant investor, and would be effected on a pro-rata basis after considering the number of claims received as well as the funds available with the Justice Lodha Committee.
Earlier on 27 November 2016, the market regulator, while informing the process to claim refund (for investors of PACL) made it clear that the Committee would initiate refund process only upon realisation of a sizable amount. It had said, "In such case, investors would be required to file their claims only in the prescribed format upon specific notification by the Committee. Till such notification, investors are requested to retain their documents with themselves and not to part with them for any reason whatsoever."
The Lodha Committee is supervising the Supreme Court ordered process of selling PACL's assets across the country and refunding Rs49,100 crore collected from over 56 crore investors. The money to be refunded to the investors was allegedly collected by PACL and Pearls Golden Forest Limited - two companies belonging to Nirmal Singh Bhangoo-managed group - in the name of sale and development of agricultural land.
Lakhs of investors who put their hard earned money in PACL formerly Pearls Agrotech Corp Ltd, a collective investment scheme (CIS), have been in a panic about the fate of their investment after the company has been ordered to refund their money. It may be recalled that this company has raised a whopping Rs49,000 crore from people across the country, claiming to have bought them a stake in land, like a land mutual fund. PACL has also used India’s slow legal system very effectively to delay regulatory action for several years, while it continued to collect money from people. In fact, it has doubled the money raised, even after SEBI began action against it.
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