The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday conducted searches at the residences of NDTV’s promoter Prannoy Roy for allegedly causing a loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank on a loan of Rs 350 crore between 2008-10. The agency further accused Roy, his wife Radhika Roy, private company RRPR Holding Pvt Ltd and officials of ICICI Bank of allegedly concealing share transaction from the SEBI, stock exchange and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Calling the raids a “blatant attack on the freedom of the press,” NDTV, in a statement this evening, said that the CBI had filed its FIR based on a “shoddy complaint” by a “disgruntled” former NDTV consultant who has not obtained a “single order from the courts.”
In its FIR, the CBI accused NDTV founders, RRPR Holding Pvt Ltd and unknown officials of ICICI Bank of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption. The CBI said RRPR Holdings had allegedly taken a loan of Rs 500 crore from India Bulls Private Limited to purchase 20 per cent shares of NDTV from the public in 2008-09.
The CBI alleged that RRPR Holdings took a loan of Rs 375 crore at the rate of 19 per cent per annum from ICICI Bank to repay the borrowing from India Bulls. The promoters of NDTV pledged their entire shareholding in NDTV as a collateral to ICICI Bank for this loan, the CBI alleged. This pledging of shares was not reported to the SEBI, stock exchanges and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, according to the CBI.
Such concealment was allegedly done because a creation of more than 61 per cent voting capital for ICICI Bank was in violation of section 19 (2) of the Banking Regulation Act. It should not be more than 30 per cent, the agency said in its FIR. An interest waiver of 10 per cent was given by ICICI Bank.
According to the Banking Regulation Act, “No banking company shall hold shares in any company, whether as pledgee, mortgagee or absolute owner, of an amount exceeding 30 per cent of the paid-up share capital of that company or 30 per cent of its own paid-up share capital and reserves, whichever is less.”
In a statement released in the evening, NDTV said: “It is shocking that the CBI conducted searches on the NDTV offices and residence of the promoters without even conducting a preliminary enquiry. This is a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press…the CBI has been compelled to file an FIR based on a shoddy complaint by a disgruntled former consultant at NDTV called Sanjay Dutt, who has been making false allegations and filing cases in courts of law with these false allegations. So far, he has not obtained a single order from any of these courts.”
“The allegation appears to be for a loan which has been repaid by Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy more than seven years ago. The allegation that no disclosure was made to SEBI and other regulatory authorities is not only incorrect and false but also does not cloth the CBI with any power to register cases and search which further amplifies the fact that the search by the CBI is only a witch-hunt against independent media,” it said.
“NDTV and its promoters have never defaulted on any loan to ICICI or any other bank. We adhere to the highest levels of integrity and independence. It is clearly the independence and fearlessness of NDTV’s team that the ruling party’s politicians cannot stomach and the CBI raid is merely another attempt at silencing the media. No matter how much the politicians attack us — we will not give up the fight for freedom and the independence of media in India,” the statement added.
The FIR said that a loss of Rs 48 crore was caused to ICICI Bank and consequent gain by RRPR.
The searches took place at two locations in Delhi and one each in Dehradun and Mussoorie including the farmhouse in Dehradun and property owned by Roys in Mussoorie. The CBI spokesperson strongly denied the witch-hunt allegations levelled by NDTV and said the agency was following procedures laid in the law.
There was no political interference in the raids, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said. “If somebody does something wrong simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet,” Naidu said. “The CBI might have received some information. That is why they have taken action.”
The Congress condemned the CBI raid. “We feel it is an assault on media freedom and attack on the fourth pillar of the democracy…This is also an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and terror among media houses,” senior Congress leader Ajay Maken said at an AICC press conference.
He said the raid also revealed the Government’s pick-and-choose approach. Maken recalled that the Government had told Parliament in December that public sector banks had written off Rs 1.54 lakh crore of bad loans. He said the ratio of NPAs to gross domestic product has doubled in the last three years.
“The BJP and the central government should say how many private defaulters were raided like this….Vijay Mallya, who defaulted over Rs 9000 crore, is sitting in London and watching the Champions Trophy. There is no action against them. He was allowed to leave the country. And on the other hand, there is an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among media houses,” he added.
Former Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari too condemned the raids and called it a direct assault of freedom of the press.