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The Malvinder, Shivinder Singh story: Why the brothers, once billionaires, are in the dock

Brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh, once successful businessmen who were on Forbes’ list of billionaires, are now staring at the prospect of spending at least the next few days in jail.

Malvinder and Shivinder Singh were arrested by the Delhi Police’s Economic Offenses Wing Thursday evening. The brothers were arrested for allegedly diverting money and causing losses to the tune of Rs 2,397 crore.

At the heart of the allegations over which the Singh brothers have been arrested is a company that was once led by Malvinder and Shivinder — Religare Enterprises Limited (REL). Malvinder and Shivinder have been accused of diverting the money of Religare Finvest Limited (RFL), an REL subsidiary.

The broad allegations are that Malvinder and Shivinder, along with other officials of REL, took loans in the name of RFL and diverted the money to other companies. This, RFL alleges, caused the company losses of Rs 2,387 crore.

While significant, these allegations against Malvinder and Shivinder Singh are just the tip of the iceberg. The brothers‘ storied success story is matched by their equally storied downfall from grace. According to a Business Today report from 2018, the brothers inexplicably managed to squander a whopping Rs 22,500 crore over just one decade.

The story of how they managed this is complex and has several gaps. But, here are the basics.

WHO ARE MALVINDER, SHIVINDER SINGH?

Malvinder and Shivinder Singh are the grandsons of Bhai Mohan Singh, a businessman from Pakistan’s Rawalpindi who settled in Delhi after the Partition. Bhai Mohan Singh went on to set up the pharma company Ranbaxy after buying a debt-ridden company owned by his cousins Ranjit Singh and Gurbax Singh (their names Ranjit and Guxbax gave the name Ranbaxy).

Later, Mohan Singh’s son Parvinder — the father of Malvinder and Shivinder — took control of Ranbaxy, which would ultimately go on to become India’s largest pharmaceutical firm.

Meanwhile, Malvinder and Shivinder had education from prestigious schools — the brothers studied at Dehradun’s Doon School, Delhi’s St Stephen’s College and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US.

When their father Parvinder died in 1999, Malvinder and Shivinder inherited a 33.5 per cent stake in Ranbaxy, which was scaling new heights.

WHAT HAPPENED TO RANBAXY?

They sold it. In 2008, when Ranbaxy was at its peak, Malvinder and Shivinder Singh sold their controlling stake to the Japanese pharma giant Daiichi Sankyo. The Ranbaxy sale earned the brothers a windfall amount of Rs 9,576 crore.

However, a few years after the sale, the Singh brothers ran into trouble when Daiichi accused them of concealing information and dragged them to an international court. Malvinder and Shivinder Singh were accused of hiding information of regulatory problems Ranbaxy was facing in the United States.

The brothers ultimately lost the case and were ordered by a Singapore tribunal to pay $500 million (around Rs 3,500 crore at current rates). The case reached Indian courts, with the Supreme Court threatening to jail the brothers if they don’t pay the tribunal award.

But let’s leave this for now and focus on the money Malvinder and Shivinder earned from the Ranbaxy sale.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RANBAXY MONEY?

The year was 2008 and Malvinder and Shivinder Singh could do no wrong. The brothers had hit gold with the sale of their Ranbaxy sale, earning close to Rs 10,000 crore.

How the brothers spent the money is where things get interesting.

According to a Business Today report, the money earned from the Ranbaxy sale was spent in four parts:

The Singh brothers used nearly Rs 2,000 crore to pay off taxes and loan repaymentsRs 1,750 crore and Rs 2,230 crore was invested respectively in Religare and Fortis, both companies founded by the brothersThe remaining Rs 2,700 crore was mysteriously transferred to one Gurinder Singh Dhillon and his family

ENTER THE BABA

Gurinder Singh Dhillon, popularly known as the Baba, is closely linked to the story of Malvinder and Shivinder Singh’s downfall. Dhillon is the head of the spiritual sect Radha Soami Satsang Beas, which is a breakaway faction of the Radha Soami sect founded in the 19th century in Agra.

The Singh brothers were close to Dhillon, who, in fact, is their maternal uncle. The Singh brothersmother Nimmi Singh is Dhillon’s cousin. Nimmi is also the daughter of Charan Singh who headed the Radha Soami Satsang Beas before Dhillon took over in 1990.

Now, why Malvinder and Shivinder Singh transferred the Rs 2,700 crore (now valued at around Rs 5,000 crore) to Dhillon and his family is not known. What is known is that the Dhillon family used the money to invest in real estate.

THE DOWNFALL

After the sale of their Ranbaxy stake, Malvinder and Shivinder Singh were rolling in money. Like explained earlier, the brothers pumped some of the proce of the sale into their other businesses — financial services firm Religare and hospital chain Fortis.

Both Religare and Fortis were extremely successful businesses. At its peak, Religare was one of India’s largest non-banking financial corporations (NBFC). Fortis, on the other hand, was India’s largest hospital chain.

Buoyed by the Singh brother’s fresh investments in the companies, both Religare and Fortis went on unbridled expansion drives.

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And, this is where things took a turn for the bad.

Both Religare and Fortis raked up huge debts, debts the companies were unable to clear once slowdown hit. And soon, allegations emerged of serious wrongdoing and misappropriation of funds at both Fortis and Religare.

Faced with a growing debt pile and allegations of financial wrongdoing, the brothers started divesting their stakes in Fortis and Religare and ultimately ended up losing control of their businesses.

BROTHERS AT WAR

The Singh brothers‘ downfall drove a wedge between them. In late 2018, Shivinder Singh sued Malvinder, accusing him of mismanagement and of basically being responsible for the downfall of the brothers‘ businesses.

A few months later, Malvinder sued Shivinder, accusing him of being part of a conspiracy to divert funds. Malvinder also sued Gurinder Singh Dhillon and his family.

Interestingly, both Malvinder and Shivinder also blamed Sunil Godhwani for their downfall. Sunil Godhwani is the former chairman of Religare and was once considered to be Malvinder and Shivinder‘s third brother. Godhwani was also a confidante of Dhillon.

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?

Well, Malvinder and Shivinder are under arrest. As is Sunil Godwani and a couple of other officials of Religare Enterprises Limited. The allegation against them is that they took loans in the name of Religare Finvest Limited — a subsidiary of Religare — and diverted the funds to other companies.

Meanwhile, Malvinder and Shivinder are also on the hook for the $500 million (around Rs 3,500 crore) that they have been ordered to pay to Daiichi Sankyo over the irregularities in the Ranbaxy sale.

Also, Gurinder Singh Dhillon and his family and several others have been ordered by the Delhi High Court to pay money owed to the Singh brothers so that they in turn can pay Daiichi.

What money, you ask? Remember that sum of around Rs 2,700 crore that was mysteriously transferred to the Dhillion family? Well, that.

It all starts and ends with money.