The Radha Soami Satsang Beas or RSSB spiritual organization really came to light in the last week of September 2015, when promoter and executive vice chairman of Fortis, Shivinder Singh decided to step down to serve the RSSB full time. He took up the position of non-Executive Vice Chariman at Fortis. His rationale was to give back to society.
Many of us furiously googled RSSB then. We wondered why the suave 40 year old billionaire entrepreneur was joining a religious sect full time only to realise the relationship it has with the Singh brothers and group companies ran longer and deeper.
An interesting example of this was in Feb 2014, when Religare Health Trust or RHT announced the purchase of the Mohali hospital property from RSSB. The transaction was for Rs 270 crore or $43.2 million, which the RSSB sect would receive for it.
Interestingly, the current CEO, executive director and board member of RHT Holdings is Gurpreet Singh Dhillon. As per the RHT website, he also serves as a Director on the board of two wholly owned subsidiaries of RHT. He was appointed CEO of RHT holdings at the age of 29, in 2013.
So, it seems as though Gurpreet Singh was CEO when the Mohali hospital was bought from RSSB in 2014. While his capabilities include experience in asset management, investments and advisory in real estate, his direct connection with RSSB cannot be ignored.
Gurpreet Singh is one of the two sons of the spiritual head of the RSSB sect – Gurinder Singh Dhillon. The Singh brothers are the nephews of Gurinder Singh Dhillon, who took over from their grandfather Charan Singh in 1990. This makes Gurpreet Singh Dhillon the Singh brothers’ cousin.
But these curious business connections the Dhillon family has with the Singh brothers doesn’t end here.
The Fortis Malar website for example lists Balinder Singh Dhillon as the President of Fortis Healthcare. While he is not a part of Fortis or the group companies now, reports dating back to 2015 describe him as the RSSB link.
How so? Balinder Singh Dhillon is the RSSB sect head Gurinder Singh Dhillon’s real brother, hence the Singh brothers uncle.
Coming to Religare, the Dhillons' connections seem to be well documented. For example, besides being the head of RHT holdings, Gurpreet Singh Dhillon was a significant shareholder in the financial firm Religare, along with his brother Gurukrit, and mother Shabnam Dhillon, the wife of Gurinder Singh Dhillon.
The shareholding pattern back in Dec 2007 indicates both Gurpreet Singh Dhillon and Gurkirat Singh Dhillon holding 8.2% each, increasing it to 10% in the next 1-2 years.
By September 2012 Gurpreet Singh Dhillon owned a 4.35% stake and Shabnam Dhillon held a 8.6% in Religare and Gurkirat’s name did not feature in the shareholding pattern.
While Gurinder Singh Dhillon’s stake was pared off by 2013, Shabnam Dhillon held a 8.5% stake till March 2017.
In 2014 Religare raised over $90 million or Rs 550 crore via preferential allotment to an arm of Standard Chartered and Bestest Developers, a company owned by the Dhillon family.
All this could mean nothing, experts say. But, it is curious as the same names or some connections come up repeatedly with Singh brothers and parties associated with it. And it might not be limited to just family.
Let us take Standard Chartered, for example. Besides the preferential allotment in Religare, Standard Chartered Private Equity had put in Rs 300 crore to buy shares in Fortis via foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCB), an open market and participation in an institutional placement program in 2013.
Interestingly, Standard Chartered was one of the first independent valuers chosen by the Fortis board to provide an opinion on the binding and non binding bids.
And some go as far to point out that Deepak Kapoor, who is part of the Expert Advisory Committee, or EAC, and Harpal Singh, current board member and relative of the Singh brothers are both part of the governing council of the non profit, Save the Children.
Again, this might be all the normal course of business with an arms length distance of functioning. For example, sources have indicated Gurpreet Singh, though he might be family, is independent in his duties of RHT Holdings, and also has an independent board to maintain checks and balances.
More recently, Shivinder Singh's reports indicate he has written a letter to the board expressing his concern on how the bidding process was carried out.
But, experts can’t shake off the governance issues Fortis and Religare have faced. The latest being questions raised about how current board was divided in its vote for Munjal-Burman.
First Published: IST