Sant Singh Chatwal is back – almost with a bang. The 71-year-old Indian American hotelier, who had pleaded guilty in April 2014 in a New York court of violating US election laws through illegal campaign donations of more than $180,000 and witness tampering, announced big expansion and rebranding plans for his hotel group earlier this week in Delhi. “We’re entering a strategic partnership with the Singapore-based real estate development company Castlewood Group to focus on Asia in a big way and we’re also changing the name and business focus of our group Hampshire Hotels to Dream Hotels, which will now be focussed only on the lifestyle luxury segment with the brands Dream, Time and Unscripted,” said Chatwal who is back at the helm of his privately held company. He had stepped down as CEO of Hampshire Hotels before pleading guilty in the summer of 2014, but had continued to remain its chairman.
The Hampshire Group has also ended an earlier agreement that it had signed with the Wyndham Hotel Group in 2012 giving it the franchise and management rights of its 5-star deluxe brand Dream.
The first Dream hotel and spa under the new tie-up with Castlewood is set to open its doors in Phuket, Thailand in January 2016. “After the Phuket launch, over the next five years we plan to launch around 20 new projects including four Dream hotels in the US, a very large one in Doha and three Dream hotels in India in Goa, Mumbai and Jaipur. We are also looking at other destinations in Asia such as Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Bangkok,” Mr Chatwal told ET Magazine. The group, which has a Dream hotel in Kochi and a Hampshire Plaza in Hyderabad, is also looking at opening luxury restaurants, and plans overall investments to the tune of $2.5 billion over the next five years.
While the Mumbai hotel is likely to be developed in Bandra-Kurla area, the group is in talks with existing properties for the Goa project. Both the hotels are likely to come up over the next two years and would be in the $100 million bracket.
Chatwal who had admitted to conspiring to make $188,000 in illegal political campaign contributions to three US candidates via straw donors had avoided a jail sentence last December having been sentenced to three years probation and a $500,000 fine on the charges of illegally donating thousands of dollars to political campaigns. He had also apologised to the judge for his behaviour and said he had been humbled by the experience. According to the prosecution, between 2007 and 2011, Chatwal used employees, business associates and hotel contractors to solicit contributions, which he would reimburse, on behalf of various federal candidates and political action committees. Prosecutors added that the scheme violated federal limits on campaign contributions by individuals, which in 2008 were $4,600 per candidate and in 2010 were $4,800.
While the identities of the candidates that Chatwal was guilty of funding were not disclosed except that they ran for federal office, he has been a major fundraiser for the Democrats, including former US Secretary of State and now presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. While Mr Chatwal refused to comment on his future political plans if any, he did indicate that he was confident about Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for the US presidential race next year. And though he refused to make any comments about a likely involvement with Clinton’s future political campaign, he revealed that there could be a significant announcement from him next year. “I have been through very troubled times over the last year but now that is behind me and I may consider writing my story in a book sometime in the near future,” he said.
Chatwal who had been involved in a big way with the Clinton Foundation, a charitable trust of the Clinton family, remains a trustee and in 2012, through his own family trust had built a school in Delhi to provide free education, food, clothing, and medical care daily to underprivileged children in the area.
“I have just made a donation of $1 million to the Sikh Centre for International Studies which is setting up a hi-tech exhibition inside the premises of Delhi’s Rakab Gunj Gurdwara on the holy book of the Sikhs Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhism,” Chatwal said. The project is being run by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee which plans an auditorium, art exhibits, digital research library and a museum.
The Indian American hotelier, who has been known to have been close to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having been conferred with one of the highest civilian honours of the country, the Padma Bhushan, in 2010, said that like most Indians in the US he is upbeat about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has supported the Indian American groups that organised the huge community events during the PM’s visits to America.