Dinesh Pandey, Chariman of the Somap and SAAMAG groups, and his brother Pramod Pandey, are under criminal investigation in India and Singapore. Last week, the two had their money laundering activities and Ponzi investment schemes exposed in Indian media. The two are also alleged to have duped global institutional investment management firms from Canada and the United States. These troubling revelations put into jeopardy financial maneuvers by CIBC Asset Management Inc., based in Toronto, Canada, and Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. LLC (GMO), based in Boston, Massachusetts, in which the two firms invested millions of dollars into Somap’s 66 million dollar takeover of the Sri Lankan Anilana Hotels and Properties chain in 2018.
According to data released by the Wall Street Journal, CIBC and GMO both acquired large shares of Anilana Hotels after the Pandey brothers’ acquisition.
CIBC and GMO collectively control billions of dollars in global assets on behalf of their investors and are highly trusted institutions in Canada and the United States. Multiple sources close to the two firms expressed their astonishment that Dinesh and Pramod Pandey were able to overcome the investment houses’ due diligence process and convince the funds to acquire large stakes in the publicly traded company’s stock on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Anilana Hotels (ALHP.N0000) is one of nearly 300 companies trading on the platform which has been plagued over the past decade with scandals of insider trading, FOREX manipulation and heavy handed behind the scenes government grafting. In the last three weeks the CSE was shutdown temporarily (one of several shutdowns since 2012) as Sri Lanka reels with street protests, riots, and plummeting foreign cash reserves that have fallen to less than $50 million according to Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ali Sabry’s recent address to the country’s parliament.
When asked for comment, a top investor at CIBC asked, “Why would a Canadian household name like CIBC, a major bank where millions of Canadians have their personal and business bank accounts, team up with Dinesh Pandey in the Anilana Hotel deal, especially after Pandey was recently in jail for his part in a Ponzi scheme?” Mr. Pandey was arrested in India in 2020 in the infamous Bike Bot scam which bilked investors for millions of dollars. Moreover, he has gas been under criminal investigations for different schemes over the last decade. The revelation, according to a securities broker who does business with the company, was also embarrassing for GMO which prides itself on comprehensive “due diligence” investigations before it undertakes any foreign investments.
Dinesh and Pramod Pandey spearheaded the Anilana Hotels takeover with the then owner of the hotel group, Asanga Seneviratne. Mr. Seneviratne, one of Sri Lanka’s most well-known businessmen and a retired cricket player, has been involved in several controversies as head of the country’s cricket and rugby associations. Mr. Seneviratne, although never charged with a crime, maintained an incredibly close relationship Pandey.
Investors have asked for the two firms to conduct a full outside investigation to ascertain the reasons as to why CIBC and GMO would contemplate making an investment into Somag, and in turn are demanding they divest their interests in the Anilana hotel chain. The combination of the shutdown of the Colombo stock exchange and Pandey’s conviction due to the ‘Bike Bot’ scam, both well publicized by local and international media outlets, raises the question: Were CIBC and GMO executives complicit in the Anilana Hotels take over deal knowing full well that Mr. Pandey and his brother Pramod Pandey were already under criminal investigation? If so, what would motivate them to go through with the deal anyway?