Facade of Atlas Gold Jewellery Shop at Deira Gold Souq.
Dubai - M.M. Ramachandran is found guilty of issuing two dud cheques worth Dh34 million to a local bank.
The owner of Atlas Jewellery Group was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday by the Court of Misdemeanours in a case of bounced cheques.
The court, presided over by judge Ahmed Abdelmohsen Shiha, found 74-year-old M.M. Ramachandran guilty of issuing two bounced cheques worth Dh34 million.
The high-profile Indian businessman is accused of issuing the dud cheques to a local bank.
He has been in provisional detention since he was arrested by the police in August in connection with the case. The arrest came following a complaint filed by the bank after it could not collect the cheques for lack of balance. The businessman admitted to the charge of issuing the bounced cheques when the charges were read out to him in the beginning of his trial. His lawyers are expected to appeal the ruling.
|Timeline of Atlas fraud > November 12, 2015: Sentenced to 3 years jail by Dubai Court
> October 28, 2015: Maas Group agrees to invest in Atlas Jewellery group's business in the UAE and in its healthcare business in Oman. Maas Group chooses to invest considering trust imposed by millions in Atlas group.
> September 2: Debt-ridden jewellery assures lenders about repayment plan that involves disposal of all its assets in the GCC to settle liabilities estimated at over Dh500 million. Indira Ramachandran, wife of the beleaguered owner discusses with representatives of 20 creditor banks.
> September 1: Dubai Public Prosecution rejects bail request.
> Newsbreak by KT on August 31: M.M.Ramachandran, 73-year-old Indian businessman, owner of Atlas Jewellery and his daughter detained by police after receiving five complaints against him from about 15 banks over bounced cheques worth Dh55 million.
In earlier hearings and till the present date, Ramachandran was expected to reach a settlement towards the payment of the cheques worth Dh30m and Dh4m or hand the court a waiver from the complainant.
"According to the Criminal Procedures Law, and at any stage of the trial, the defendant may be released out of jail if he can get a waiver or manage to reach a settlement on the cheque dispute with the complainant," Hani Hammouda of Kefah Al Zaabi for Advocacy and Legal Consultancy told Khaleej Times.
Also read: Who is Atlas Ramachandran?
It is up to the judge to decide whether the penalty would be a fine or a jail. "Giving bounced cheques can bear a prison sentence of no more than three years," Hammouda explained.
Apart from the present case, the businessman is believed to be embroiled in debts worth Dh500 million.
The court earlier rejected his plea to be released on bond after he claimed he wanted to work out a settlement regarding the debts his group of jewellery outlets has been facing.
The insolvent Atlas group, which runs 35 jewellery outlets in the GCC, including 19 in the UAE, besides operating healthcare facilities and a real estate business, has total debts allegedly amounting to Dh512 million owed to 20 banks. Last month, Atlas Group announced that it had entered into a deal with a little-known investment firm Maas Group to raise funds. As per the announcement, Maas would become a partner in the group-owned businesses in the UAE and its two specialty hospitals in Oman. Banking sources revealed that a 10-bank steering committee set up by Atlas lenders had been in negotiations with his family members for settling the debt issue. The group, which had pledged to settle all outstanding liabilities, was also expected to present to the steering committee comprehensive financial report on all the group's assets in the region and a debt repayment plan before October 28.
|Some firsts > World Gold Council wanted to promote gold through advertisement. Only Atlas joined hands and promoted gold through advertisement campaigns
> Ramachandran at DSF. In 1996, he came up with the idea of giving away 1kg gold as prize money every day. This was an instant hit with the customers
> As a measure of transparency and customer service, Dr. Ramachandran started the practice of daily announcement of gold rates separately for 22 and 24 karat through a telephone hot line.
> For his above activities he was appointed as Chairman of 'Gold Promotion Council' by the Government of Dubai, a position he held for three years. With the support of the Government of Dubai, the Gold & Jewellery Group was formed and Ramachandran was made Secretary of the group for the first six years since 1996. At present he is holding the position of a member of the Board of Directors of the Group. Within a short span of its establishment Atlas became a market leader and a household name in the GCC.
In February 2015, the Indian income tax department raided 23 branches of the group in Thrissur, Coimbatore, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi, and had reportedly unearthed tax evasions to the tune of Rs30 million.
Besides his business interests in the UAE, Oman and India, Mathukkara Moothedath Ramachandran, who hails from Thrissur district in Kerala, is also known as a film producer and actor.
Before getting into jewellery business in Kuwait in 1981, Ramachandran was working as a banker in India and the Gulf. He set up his Dubai jewellery showroom in 1989. In the late 90s, he diversified into the real estate and healthcare sectors. He owns two hospitals in Oman and his daughter, who was running medical clinics in Dubai under the banner Atlas Star, is also in detention on bounced cheque cases.
Once ranked among the "100 most powerful Indians in the GCC", Ramachandran became a household name with his frequent appearances as a brand ambassador for his group's television advertisements.