Dubai-based jewellery retailer Atlas on Monday vehemently denied reports suggesting the arrest of its owner MM Ramachandran and his daughter for failing to repay loans worth Dirham 550 million (approximately Rs 1,000 crore) and for giving out dud cheques to banks. Discrediting the reports of Atlas chairman's arrest, his personal assistant Shyam told Azhimukham that the group is not facing a debt as high as reported.
Shyam clarified that Atlas group does hold business with the banks mentioned by various news sites and the default in payments last month. Shyam, however, insisted the debts were not high enough to cause the chairman's arrest and refused to disclose the amount company owes to various banks. He clarified that health issues had prohibited Ramachandran from leaving his Dubai home, or attending to any calls.
[Updated 6.15 pm, 31 August]
Indian businessman Atlas Ramachandran and his daughter Manju have been reportedly arrested by Dubai police after a number of banks lodged complaints over bounced cheques.
The Khaleej Times reported that Ramachandran, who runs dozens of gold jewellry outlets in the Gulf countries, was arrested and kept in a Bur Dubai detention centre.
His daughter is held in the women's section of the detention centre after two banks filed complaints over cheques for Dirham 34 million that bounced.
Atlas Jewellery, the brand that prides in being the "most trusted", was reportedly deep in debt for many years and the crisis worsened with Ramachandran allegedly going incommunicado some days ago.
Gulf newspapers had earlier reported, without naming him, that Ramachandran was absconding after piling up loans worth Dirham 550 million (approximately Rs 1,000 crore), from as many as 15 different banks -- both Indian and those operating in the Middle East.
Kerala Online News had reported that Atlas Ramachandran "went missing" and that the banks that he owes money were preparing to sue him for deliberately refusing to pay back the loan and on charges for cheating.
Bank of Baroda in Dubai took the severest hit with Ramachadran's owing the lender as much as Dirham 70 million.
Speculation over the whereabouts of Ramachandran, who also runs a chain of healthcare facilities under the Atlas Star banner, came to a halt with the Khaleej Times's finding that the businessman had already been arrested.
According to the report, at least five complaints have been made against Ramachandrandran.
The staff at the Atlas Jewellery outlets across the region are clueless about the developments. The retail outlets reportedly had to return most of their inventory to the suppliers and sell the limited stock at huge discounts of 50 to 60 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Dubai Gold and Diamond Jewellery Group, in which Ramachandran is a member, has offered to help Atlas group by discussing their options with the banks. Tawhid Abdullah, chairman of Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, believes that Atlas group is merely going through a rough patch and that Ramachandran did not mean to deceive or dupe anyone.
"If someone is in trouble, it is not the right thing to put him behind bars. He should he given time to sort out the issues. M.M.R. enjoyed goodwill and owns a chain of some 60 plus outlets and other assets... As a group, we are ready to help out a long-time member. There are several solutions. But for all these we need to sit and talk with the banks and the troubled company," he said.
However, the group has not heard from Atlas Group, and it is not known if they will take up his offer.
According to several recent reports, the Atlas group was not in the pink of health for many years. The KT report said the Atlas group has allegedly defaulted on payments to 20 banks and that the gold retailer's total bank liabilities stood at a whopping Dh600 million.
As news of the gold tycoon's 'missing' trickled in, online news portal Marunadan Malayali had revelead that the businessman was Ramachandran, who is a household name in Kerala. The portal reported that banks had sued Ramachandran for deliberately refusing to pay back the loan. The site also said Atlas Jewellry, which opened its first branch in Kuwait some 30 years ago and spread all over the Middle East, had been swimming in debt for many years.
Deccan Chronicle reported that the group has been trying to pay off the debt by offloading their inventory. According to the report, an executive of a Kochi broking firm that has operations in Dubai confirmed that the news about the banks seeking action again Ramachandran was true.
"Yes, we have confirmed that the banks have approached the police this week," he told the daily, refusing to elaborate.
Meanwhile, even after repeated attempts, Ramachandran or his secretary could not be contacted.
[Updated on Monday, 31 August]