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NDTV Promoters Prannoy Roy & Radhika Roy Guilty Of Insider Trading, Holds SEBI; Asks Them To Pay Rs 16.97 Crores Plus Interest

Akshita Saxena
28 Nov 2020 3:50 PM GMT
NDTV Promoters Prannoy Roy & Radhika Roy Guilty Of Insider Trading, Holds SEBI; Asks Them To Pay Rs 16.97 Crores Plus Interest
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The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has restrained NDTV promoters Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy from accessing the securities market for two years, for making wrongful gain of over Rs. 16.97 crores, by insider trading in April 2008. The SEBI also prohibited them from buying, selling or otherwise dealing in securities, directly or indirectly, or being associated with...

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The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has restrained NDTV promoters Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy from accessing the securities market for two years, for making wrongful gain of over Rs. 16.97 crores, by insider trading in April 2008.

The SEBI also prohibited them from buying, selling or otherwise dealing in securities, directly or indirectly, or being associated with the securities market in any manner, whatsoever, for a period of 2 years.

The market regulator further directed them to jointly or severally, disgorge the amount of wrongful gain of ₹16,97,38,335/- along with interest at the rate of 6% per annum from April 17, 2008, till the date of actual payment, within 45 days.

The 90-page order passed by Whole Time Member S K Mohanty of SEBI stated :

"The insider information is available to the insiders on account of their important corporate hierarchical position. Any fiduciary holds a position in trust for others. If the persons like the Noticees, who are obligated to observe fiduciary duties while exercising their powers fail to do so and instead use their position to their own advantage pecuniary or otherwise, it constitutes a fraud perpetrated on the common shareholders whose trust reposed in them has been blatantly breached. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that trading by the insiders is monitored and regulated, especially when they are in possession of UPSI(Unpublished Price Sensitive Information). Wherever such trading results in accrual of unlawful gain, such insiders are required to forgo such gain."

The directions follow a probe conducted by the Board between September 2006 and June 2008, on a complaint against the news company.

The Board noted that the investigation revealed that Mr. Sanjay Dutt and his associated entities had indulged in insider trading in the scrip of NDTV (for which separate proceedings have been initiated). At the same time, the investigation also concurrently detected that Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy had carried out insider trading in the scrip of NDTV.

After perusing all the records, the Board held that the NDTV promoters made wrongful gains by dealing in company shares, while being in possession of Unpublished Price Sensitive Information (UPSI) pertaining to the proposed reorganization of the company.

It noted that the discussions pertaining to reorganization of the Company started on September 07, 2007 and the disclosure was made to the public post trading hours on April 16, 2008. Hence, the UPSI period was from September 07, 2007 to April 16, 2008 and, the trading window was required to be closed upto April 17, 2008 (till 24 hours after the UPSI was made public).

It further noted that Prannoy Roy was the Chairman and whole time Director and Radhika Roy was the Managing Director at the said time and were a part of the decision-making chain that had led to crystallization of the UPSI.

Nevertheless, the two promoters being in possession of the UPSI sold company shares on April 17, 2008, when the trading window for them was closed and made a profit of Rs 16,97,38,335.

"That the Noticees have purchased 4835850 shares of NDTV while in possession of an UPSI-6 during the UPSI period and have sold shares of NDTV within 24 hours of public disclosure of the said price sensitive information (PSI) to the stock exchanges is borne out of undisputed facts. But for their purchases of those 4835850 shares on December 16, 2007, while in possession of UPSI, which triggered the obligation of open offer, there would not have been any necessity for the Noticees to enter into the sale transaction of NDTV shares on April 17, 2008," the Board said.

The Promoters had defended their actions by stating that they attributed full knowledge of all their trades to SEBI and the stock exchanges and argued that none of the leading law firms advising them on their transactions ever alerted them on possible infraction of the Prevention of Insider Trading Regulations, 1992, in respect of any of these transactions.

The Roys further stated that the purchases of shares of NDTV were made on December 16, 2007, with an intention to avert a hostile takeover of the Company, while the sale of shares on April 16, 2008, were made as part of a prior agreement with the buyer to raise funds to meet their open offer obligations that were triggered by their purchases made on December 16, 2007.

Rejecting this explanation, the Board said,

"It is pertinent to bear in mind that creeping acquisition and acquisition pursuant to possession of UPSI are diametrically opposite actions. The instant case does not pertain to and is in no manner concerned with the disclosure under the PIT Regulations, 1992 or the Takeover Regulations, 1997, for an incremental acquisition of shares which might have been similar to creeping acquisition. On the contrary, it deals with a grave allegation of dealing in shares by an insider while in possession of UPSI (PSI-6). Any acquisition by an insider on the basis of an UPSI cannot be camouflaged as a creeping acquisition for seeking of immunity from such a serious violation. The fact that the insider was privy to an UPSI in the instant case and has acquired shares while in possession of such UPSI, in my opinion, is more than adequate to negate the claims put forth by the Noticees to justify their acquisition of shares."

It said that the Promoters had contravened Regulation 3(i) and 4 of the Prohibition of Insider Trading (PIT) Regulations, 1992 r/w Regulation 12 of the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 and Section 12A(d) and (e) of the SEBI Act, 1992.

Further, they are said to be in contravention of NDTV's Code of Conduct and regulation 12(2) read with 12(1) of the PIT Regulations, 1992.

The Board said,

"such conduct on the part of the Noticees is not in compliance with Code of Conduct of NDTV and regulation 12(2) read with 12(1) of the PIT Regulations, 1992, as it was impermissible for them to trade in the shares of the Company within 24 hours of disclosure of the price sensitive information by the Company to the stock exchange. The above conduct of the Noticees reinforces the charge of insider trading given the fact that the Noticees purchased the shares of NDTV during the operation of UPSI in contravention of law and also sold shares of NDTV when the trading window was closed for them. Considering that the Noticees held top management positions in the Company and were being actively assisted by legal advisors/professionals, the explanations offered by them to justify such acts are far from satisfactory."

In conclusion, the Board made the following observations with respect to insider trading:

"It is trite law that the corporate insiders stand in a fiduciary relationship with the shareholders of the company concerned. The insiders invariably have access to the unpublished price sensitive information by virtue of their position in the corporate hierarchy or on account of their official duties. This access creates an information asymmetry between those having access to such information and the multitude of shareholders/ investors who have no access to such information. The protection of investors in the securities market requires that there should not be any information asymmetry between these two classes of stakeholders. The PIT Regulations, 1992, are aimed at addressing the information asymmetry. It prohibits trading in the shares of the company by the insiders while in possession of UPSI. It also requires the listed companies to draw up a code of conduct so that any trading by the insiders remains above board. Such regulation of trades of the insider is necessary to protect the interest of investors in the securities market and also for regulation and development of the market. If insider trading is not contained, prohibited and dealt with firmly, it would hamper and jeopardize the interest of a normal shareholder."

Inter alia, SEBI barred seven individuals and entities from accessing the market for a period varying from one to two years, for indulging in insider trading. Some of them have also been asked to disgorge the illegal gains.

These names include former CEO of NDTV, Vikramaditya Chandra; senior advisor Ishwari Prasad Bajpai; CFO Saurav Banerjee.

The company has on the other hand issued a statement, alleging that SEBI's findings against its promoters are based on an 'inaccurate assessment of facts' and it will prefer an appeal against the same.

NDTV in a statement later on Saturday said Sebi's order "is based on an inaccurate assessment of facts". The company will appeal against it.

The statement was issued by lawyers led by Fereshte Sethna, senior partner at DMD Advocates, who represent NDTV founders Radhika Roy and Prannoy Roy, according to Economic Times.

In June 2019, in another case, the SEBI had restrained Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy from accessing securities market for two years. In that case,  the SEBI also restrained them from holding position as director or any key managerial personnel in NDTV for two years.

The order was passed in a 2017 case filed by Quantum Securities Ltd, an NDTV shareholder, alleging that RRPR Holdings, Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy didn't disclose information about loan agreements entered into by them with Vishvapradhan Commercial Private Ltd (VCPL) and ICICI.

The 2019 order was stayed by the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) few days later observing that "a listed company which is managed by the appellants holding more than 61% of the total shares cannot remain headless".

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