04 April, 2012

Robert Vadra .. And The Tip Of The Iceberg

Rohini Singh & Sruthijith KK, The Economic Times

Vadra Makes Low-Key Entry into Real Estate

Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law ties up with DLF, buys tracts of land in tier-3 cities in Haryana & Rajasthan

New Delhi-based entrepreneur Robert Vadra, married into the country’s most powerful family, has made a quiet and relatively unheralded entry into the real estate business, including a partnership with DLF Ltd, India’s largest realty firm.

Vadra, the son-in-law of the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition chairperson Sonia Gandhi, has stayed away from electoral politics, maintaining that he wants to be known as a businessman. In interviews he has said that his focus is on Artex, a small company specialising in jewellery and handicraft exports.

That seems to be changing as 42-year-old Vadra, known for his punishing fitness regime and love for fast bikes, has sought to scale up and diversify his business activities since 2008, acquiring tracts of land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting an entry into the business of chartering aircraft.

Regulatory filings available in the public domain and reviewed by ET reporters reveal the changing graph of Vadra’s business interests. These include wide-ranging transactions with the DLF Group. Several of his companies have received loans, some unsecured, from DLF group companies, including the Bombay Stock Exchange-listed flagship DLF Ltd.


Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd, a company wholly owned by Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra, is a partner, along with DLF Hotel Holdings and others, in a partnership firm that owns the business hotel Hilton Garden Inn in the upscale South Delhi business district Saket. The hotel is located within the DLF Place mall, also known as DLF Courtyard.

“The Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Saket is a small business hotel. I have interest in hospitality and am happy to be part of the hotel,” Vadra told ET, speaking on the phone from Europe, where he is travelling presently. He said the business association with DLF stemmed from a long-standing friendship with the family that controls the realty giant.

“I have known the DLF people for a long time and they are friends of mine. I had wanted to invest in real estate and one thing led to another. Right now, I can only be part of a small hotel. If I were taking favours from people I would be doing far bigger things. But I am doing this on my own. I can’t expand immediately but I hope to expand a few years down the line,” he added.


DLF has also extended loans to various companies owned by Vadra. Some of these are unsecured loans or debt without any collateral. As on March 2009, Sky Light Hospitality had received unsecured loans amounting to 25 crore from DLF Ltd. As on March 2010, only 10 crore remained. It's unclear from the statement of accounts if the rest was paid back or written off.

Sky Light Hospitality has, in turn, loaned money to other Vadra-owned companies such as Blue Breeze Trading Pvt Ltd, North India IT Parks Pvt Ltd, Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd and Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd. Blue Breeze Trading, a company incorporated in 2007 with Vadra and his wife Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as first directors and equal shareholders, is in the business of chartering aircraft. The company, however, seems to have done little business, apart from acquiring agricultural land.

Priyanka Gandhi ceased to be a director as on July 2008. She is no longer a shareholder. Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd also had a 5 crore loan directly from DLF on its books as on March 2010. The joint venture firm Saket Courtyard Hospitality had received 3.58 crore of unsecured loans from DLF Hotel Holdings Ltd, the group company that owned 50% stake in the JV.

"The business relationship of DLF Group with Robert Vadra has been in his capacity as an individual entrepreneur and on a completely transparent and arms-length basis. DLF has always respected and complied with Mr Vadra's explicit directions and wish to not utilise his name or association in any manner whatsoever. The business relationship has been conducted to the highest standards of ethics and transparency," a DLF spokesman said in a statement. The company said it intended to respond to a detailed questionnaire sent by ET on March 9. At the time of going to press, no response was received.


Vadra’s companies have also been acquiring tracts of land in recent years. Sky Light Hospitality acquired 5 bighas in Sohna, Haryana, for 7.9 crore during the first year of operation - 2007-08. In 2008-09, the company's fixed assets included land acquired in Manesar for 15.3 crore and by the next fiscal, the company also had bought land in Bikaner for 79 lakh. The acreage of land is unknown.

Vadra's company, North India IT Parks, has been the most prolific acquirer of land. During 2009-10, the company acquired 160.62 acres (including 85.62 acres of agricultural land) in Bikaner for 1.02 crore. Another Vadraowned firm, Real Earth Estates, acquired varying quantities (undisclosed) of land in Hayatpur, Bikaner, Hassanpur, Mewat and New Delhi's pricey Greater Kailash (Part II) neighbour-hood, during 2009-10. The company paid a total of 7 crore.

Sky Light Realty has bought an undisclosed amount of agricultural land in Palwal, Haryana, and Bikaner, Rajasthan, which collectively cost the company 89 lakh. The company also has land in Hayatpur, Haryana, which cost 1 crore. The company has also paid 5.2 crore to DLF for buying seven flats at DLF's Magnolia apartment complex in Gurgaon.

Another 5 crore has been spent on flats at the Capital Green complex owned by DLF Estates Pvt Ltd. This might be related to a 'Booking of Flats' business under a joint venture between Sky Light Realty and Sky Light Hospitality, both Vadraowned companies. Vadra said he could explain the details of these transactions after he returns and reviews the documents on which this newspaper has based its questions. However, he said buying up land in tier-3 cities was part of a deliberate strategy akin to value investing.

“I've been investing in real estate every time I make money from my other businesses. I make investments in tier-3 towns because it is cheaper to invest there. I usually liquidate my real estate assets whenever I can, but I have no intention to develop. I invest like anyone else, in remote areas," Vadra told ET.

However, at least one of his companies has expressed its intention to enter the construction business. The directors' report accompanying the audited accounts of Real Earth Estates for 2009-10, says: "During the year, the company has purchased land in the state of Haryana and Rajasthan. A plot in Delhi has also been purchased during the year. The company has entered into joint venture arrangement with Sky Light Realty. Very soon the company hopes to enter into the field of construction. Necessary legal formalities are being completed in this respect."

There have been murmurs in the past about Vadra's interest in realty. Vadra's lawyers served a legal notice on the realty firm BPTP Ltd in 2006, alleging the firm has been "intentionally, falsely, and fraudulently claiming that several of their projects were part-owned by Robert Vadra and that he was helping them in their Real Estate Development Business”.

Vadra told ET that BPTP has been exploiting his name. "BPTP has been exploiting my name for a long time. In the past I have served them legal notices as well," Vadra said. "I've been married for 14 years but I keep away from politics. I am still grounded. I am because of my own talent and I have to prove myself. I do not try to benefit from my family. I never take obligations from people because if I do then they will ask me for something bigger in return,” he said.


But DLF was different. "I have a good understanding with DLF. Our children are friends, we are friends. They are seasoned businessmen. They are not daft. They are educated, sensible people and are reasonable and shrewd in their business. They don't need me to enhance them. They've existed for years," he said. DLF, founded in 1946, has enjoyed spectacular commercial success and built much of Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi.

Moradabad-born Vadra, whose mother is Scottish, rose to national prominence when he married Priyanka Gandhi in 1997. Because he is married into the Nehru family, Vadra's life and activities attract a great deal of interest.

Vadra maintains a small group of friends in Delhi and is known for his interest in fitness, cycling and aviation. He has been forthcoming in recent interviews about his fitness regimen, cycling and the motorcycles he own. He is often seen at public ceremonies and state events with Priyanka Gandhi. The couple has two children - Raihan and Miraya. "People can imagine all kinds of things about me but people who matter to me know me and know how I am," Vadra said.

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