The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the alleged nexus between ICICI Bank MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar and Videocon group chairman Venugopal Dhoot. However, the PE did not name Chanda and officials said it had been registered to verify the allegations and a decision to include her name would be taken at a later stage. The Indian Express through its investigations was the first to report on the alleged corruption in the Videocon-ICICI deal on March 29.
A PE is the first step to verify allegations of corruption. As part of the procedure, the CBI collects material to determine if there is prima facie criminality requiring registration of an FIR. The agency normally has three months to decide whether to close the PE or convert it into a regular FIR.
It has been alleged that Dhoot provided crores of rupees to a firm promoted by Deepak Kochhar and two relatives six months after Videocon group got Rs 3,250 crore as loan from ICICI Bank in 2012. The amount was part of the Rs 40,000-crore loan that Videocon group secured from a consortium of 20 banks led by SBI.
Dhoot allegedly gave Rs 64 crore in 2010 through a fully owned entity to NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd (NRPL), which he had set up with Deepak Kochhar and two of his relatives. It is alleged that he transferred proprietorship of the company to a trust owned by Deepak Kochhar for Rs 9 lakh six months after he received the loan from ICICI Bank.
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It is not clear whether the CBI has named Dhoot, but sources said the PE mentions “unknown bank officials”. ICICI bank chairman M K Sharma has clarified that Kochhar was part of the credit committee which sanctioned the loan but did not recuse herself from the committee. “The board doesn’t believe it represents a conflict as Videocon Group is not an investor in NuPower Renewables. Hence, there was no need for Chanda Kochhar to recuse herself from the committee,” Sharma said at a conference addressing TV channels on Thursday
ICICI Bank had issued a press release saying “there is no question of any quid pro quo/nepotism/conflict of interest as is being alleged in various rumours.” It said the Board “reposes full faith” in Chanda Kochchar and added that “malicious and unfounded rumours” were being spread to “malign the Bank.”
The statement, however, did not address the specific query from The Indian Express on Deepak Kochchar-Venugopal Dhoot transactions or the conflict of interest.
As per records investigated by The Indian Express, in December 2008, Deepak Kochhar and Venugopal Dhoot set up NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd (NRPL). Dhoot held 50 per cent stake in the company with his family members and associates. Deepak Kochhar and Pacific Capital owned by Deepak Kochhar’s father and Chanda Kochhar’s brother’s wife held the remaining 50 per cent.
Later, in January 2009, Dhoot resigned as director of NuPower and transferred his 24,999 shares in the company to Kochhar for Rs 2.5 lakh. In March 2010, NuPower got a loan of Rs 64 crore (as fully convertible debenture) from a company called Supreme Energy Private Limited which was 99.9 per cent owned by Dhoot.
Following a sequence of transfer of shares from Dhoot to Kochhar and then from Kochhar and his relatives’ Pacific Capital to Supreme Energy, Supreme Energy became a 94.99 per cent shareholder in NuPower by the end of March 2010. Kochhar held the remaining 4.99 per cent stake in NuPower at the time. In November 2010, Dhoot transferred his entire holding in Supreme Energy, to his associate Mahesh Chandra Punglia.
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Beginning September 29, 2012 to April 29, 2013, Punglia transferred his holding to Pinnacle Energy, a trust, where Deepak Kochhar was the managing trustee. The total transaction value of the complete transfer of shares from Punglia to Kochhar’s Pinnacle Energy trust: Rs 9 lakh.
In effect, Supreme Energy gave a loan of Rs 64 crore to NuPower and then got subsumed by Pinnacle Energy within three years. ICICI Bank did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express on these financial transactions, share transfers between Dhoot/Videocon companies and companies run by Deepak Kochhar, and on the issue of conflict of interest.
But on the issue of loan granted to Videocon Group, the bank said: “In 2012, a consortium of over 20 banks and FIs where State Bank of India was the facility agent (Lead) sanctioned facilities to the Videocon group (Videocon Industries Ltd. and 12 of its subsidiaries/ associates as co-obligors) for a debt consolidation programme and for the group’s oil and gas capital expenditure programme aggregating approximately Rs. 40,000 crore…ICICI Bank sanctioned its share of facilities aggregating approximately Rs 3250 crore which was less than 10% of the total consortium facility in April 2012.”
It further said “The current outstanding against this loan is Rs 2810 crore and total current exposure to Videocon group is Rs 2849 crore…The Videocon group account has been classified as an NPA during 2017.”
Dhoot in his reply had said , “On January 15, 2009, I resigned as a director of NuPower Renewables and Supreme Energy Private Ltd and sold at par the 24,996 shares of NuPower and 9,990 shares of Supreme Energy held by me, thereby relinquishing my right, title and interests in the said shares, giving up control and management of Supreme Energy and completely disassociating myself from both the Companies all on the same day, as I got too busy with my other larger business like oil & gas, telecommunication, etc.”
NuPower stated the same in its response to the email sent by The Indian Express. However, Registrar of Companies filings of Supreme Energy show that Dhoot owned it until October 2010 and then transferred his share holding to Punglia in November 2010. Nupower also said that it has no concern or connection with ICICI Bank’s lending to companies owned by Venugopal Dhoot.
On the question of conflict of interest, a spokesperson for NuPower said: “There is no conflict of interest whatsoever and the above transactions have nothing to do with any loans processed by ICICI Bank. Pinnacle Energy trust and Supreme Energy have no business relationship with ICICI Bank.”
As of March 2017, for which latest RoC records are available, Deepak Kochhar held an aggregate of 43.4 per cent in NuPower both as direct holding and through Supreme Energy and Pinnacle Energy. The remaining holding is with Mauritius-based DH Renewables. As of March 31, 2016, Kochhar along with Supreme Energy and Pinnacle Energy held 96.23 per cent.
While the company came into existence in December 2008, it announced net losses in last six financial years. In the six years from FY’12 to FY’17, the accumulated losses for NuPower amounted to Rs 78 crore. In FY’17 it posted a loss of Rs 14.3 crore.