* Court defers decision on allowing Sahara to raise new debt
* Sahara says it can go ahead with new loan, refinancing
* Sahara needs to pay $1.6 bln initially for chief’s bail
* Next hearing of case on Jan 9 (Updates with court deferring order)
By Suchitra Mohanty and Devidutta Tripathy
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, Dec 17 (Reuters) - India’s top court has delayed its verdict on troubled conglomerate Sahara’s bid to refinance a key loan and raise fresh debt to fund at least $1.6 billion in bail needed to release its jailed boss.
Sahara chairman Subrata Roy, one of India’s best known and most flamboyant entrepreneurs, has been held in a New Delhi jail for more than nine months in Sahara’s long-running dispute with the country’s capital markets regulator.
The watchdog says Sahara, a giant conglomerate with nearly a million employees and agents, has failed to repay billions of dollars it raised in bonds which were later ruled to be illegal.
At a hearing on Wednesday, the Supreme Court said it was trying to establish whether the proposed new debt would violate rules on how Indian companies can raise money abroad.
The court will hear the case next on Jan. 9, judges said. No official order was posted on the court’s website.
Keshav Mohan, a lawyer defending Sahara on the case, said separately, however, that the group had been given a go ahead to raise second mortgages on its three overseas hotels and to refinance a Bank of China loan.
It was not clear why he differed from the court’s pronouncement. Mohan could not be reached for further comment.
Sahara, which already has a more than $900 million loan from Bank of China has sought the court’s permission to take over that loan and refinance it from another creditor, raising a fresh $650 million.
Sahara’s total liability has been estimated at up to $7.4 billion by the regulator. The Supreme Court has demanded it pay $1.6 billion initially before it grants bail to 66-year-old Roy.
The group has so far failed in its efforts to sell its hotels, including New York’s Plaza and Grosvenor House in London. The court has barred Sahara from selling the hotels at a discount of more than five percent to market value. (Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Devidutta Tripathy and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Clara Ferreira Marques)