The arrest of the Singh brothers, Shivender Mohan and Malvinder Mohan, last week for allegedly causing wrongful loss worth ₹2,397 crore to financial service firm, Religare Fininvest could just be the trigger for more skeletons coming out of the cupboard of the accused. Among those who have been arrested along with the Singh Brothers are former Religare Finvest MD Kavi Arora, former Religare Group CFO, Anil Saxena and former Religare MD Sunil Godhwani.
This is perhaps for the first time that both the brothers, the former promoters of pharma major Ranbaxy, hospital chain, Fortis and financial services firm, Religare, will face long and sustained questioning by police officials and the Economic Offences Wing of the Delhi Police.
The fact that they did not go through such an “ordeal” earlier lends itself to several interpretations but the Singh brothers must have seen the inevitable happening sooner than later.
Both of them may not have had a single ethical bone in them, but rode their luck till “karma” caught up with them. The story of the promoters of several companies has all the ingredients that can make a saga about them a bestseller. Already two books, Ranbaxy: the rise of a Indian multinational by journalist, the late Bhupesh Bhandari and Bottle of Lies: Ranbaxy and the dark side of Indian pharma, by another journalist, the US-based Katherine Eban, have already been published.
Looking back at how they and their families broke every bit of the rulebook, right from fudging drug trial record to siphoning off funds from the companies they owned, it becomes clear that their business empire was all but a coverup to make money for themselves — the more illegal it was, the better it was for them.
Back in 2008 when the Japanese pharmaceutical giant, Daiichi Sankyo bought Ranbaxy Laboratories for $4.6 billion (out of which the Singh brothers received $2.4 billion) from the brothers — who inherited the company from their father (Parvinder Singh) who in turn inherited it from his father (Bhai Mohan Singh) — the media saw it as selling off of the family silver, but the fact was that the family had squeezed it dry already and twisted and turned every law of the land and that of other countries.
Later, investigations proved that several violations had already taken place at Ranbaxy (formed from the names of Ranjit and Gurbax Singh who sold off the company of the same name to Bhai Mohan Singh for being unable to pay of the debt they owed to him) and it was a matter of time before a full-blown probe would have been triggered off by the US FDA.
It still remains a mystery as to what made Daiichi Sankyo buy Ranbaxy in 2008 without carrying out a thorough due diligence as later events proved that the promoters had fudged all the records to window dress the company.
Quality issues kept surfacing at Ranbaxy’s manufacturing plants. It prompted the US FDA to send a team to investigate the reasons for the poor quality of drugs being produced at the various plants of the pharmaceutical company. Following the probe, the FDA decided to impose an import ban on the US dedicated manufacturing plants. While the Dewas and Paonta Sahib facilities were banned in 2008, the Mohali plant was banned in 2013.
But Daiichi Sankyo did take legal action when it learned that it had been conned into buying the company. It filed a case against the brothers in Singapore court, alleging that they had withheld information about the US investigations. (The court has now ordered the Singh brothers pay back Daiichi Sankyo for concealing information about Ranbaxy). When more cases tumbled out, Daiichi Sankyo had enough of it and sold off the company to Sun Pharmaceuticals for $3.2 billion for an acquisition which they had paid $4.6 billion six years ago.
In spite of all these allegations, the Singh brothers remained unscathed, and kept claiming that all the disclosures had been made to the Japanese company before the sale of Ranbaxy. The Ranbaxy promoters went about building another company, a chain of hospitals, called the Fortis and financial services firm, Religare.
It was to their credit that both these businesses did well for themselves. Fortis at one point of time was the country’s largest hospital chain while Religare, one of the largest financial services firm. After a rather good run at the box office, the Singh brothers’ syndrome hit these companies. Both raked up huge debts and so did the allegations of misappropriation of funds and several issues of how norms were compromised.
Throw in a leader of a religious sect to this saga, the scene of crime was complete. But the Singh brothers were smart. They tried to repeat what they had done with Ranbaxy. When they realised that both Fortis and Religare were irredeemable, they started divesting their stake in these businesses.
Meanwhile, the brothers themselves split sometime in 2018 with Malvinder accusing Shivinder of mismanagement and of diverting funds to a religious sect leader, Gurinder Singh Dhillon and his family. Dhillion runs a sect called Radha Soami Satsang Beas with its sprawling headquarters near the banks of Beas river in Beas town in Punjab. Interestingly, the Singh brothers came into contact with Dhillion when they were studying at the Doon School. Dhillion was studying at the neighbouring Sanawar School in Sanawar.
Malvinder also accused Sunil Godhwani, the former chairman of Religare as one among the several alleged conspirators for the downfall of their company.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has ordered Dhillion and his family to pay money owed to the Singh brothers so that Daiichi can be paid the money. The brothers have also been accused of diverting funds worth $78 million out of Fortis Healthcare (which is now owned by the Malyasian-based IHH Healthcare).
It remains to be seen whether another stroke of luck will help the Singh brothers go scot free and the onus of providing irrefutable evidence against the duo remains with the Delhi Police.