At 60, Avantha Group promoter Gautam Thapar must have thought he had seen everything life had thrown at him. Not quite as it turns out. When the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested him, the allegation was serious. Thapar, according to officials and media reports, was being taken into custody in connection with a money laundering case.
The facts on hand do not make for good reading. In 2017, Avantha Realty, one of his group companies, borrowed Rs 515 crore from Yes Bank. Coinciding with his business fortunes going haywire, there was, quite expectedly, a default on the loan.
Now it transpires that Rana Kapoor, then Yes Bank's boss, "obtained illegal gratification" by way of property in a prime location in the capital at a highly reduced value. In turn, the bank is said to have granted the borrower very favourable credit facilities.
Besides, as recently as this June, the CBI booked Thapar in a case where he supposedly defrauded State Bank of India to the tune of Rs 2,435 crore.
Thapar's story is quite remarkable from the time he was the toast of the capital's business circles to then facing a multitude of challenges. At the core of this saga were expensive acquisitions (paper being one of them) during the peak of the business cycle starting between 2005-08.
At one point, the Avantha Group was valued at $3 billion. Hit by factors such as an ill-conceived foray into power generation and the paper business buyout going awry because of oversupply globally, the balance sheet was hopelessly leveraged. As the stress grew, Thapar had no option but to let go of his crown jewels. The consumer appliances arm of Crompton Greaves was sold in 2015. The moment to forget was his ouster from the board of CG Power and Industrial Solutions, another group company in 2019.
Perhaps, a lot of this could still have been managed, but the allegations of collusion with banks and senior officials did him in.
For the urbane, suave Thapar, who comes from an incredible pedigree (the group was founded by Karam Chand Thapar), the current state of affairs was never a part of the script. A mail sent to his office with specific questions on issues related to money laundering, the role of Yes Bank and State Bank of India elicited no response.
Today, Thapar stands without any business of consequence and with a future that looks uncertain. Fighting the law is another burden that has now come his way. Clearly, the road ahead looks rocky and he will have to fight a spate of allegations. This is not what he bargained for.
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