The Mumbai office of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) has sought a go-ahead from its headquarters in New Delhi to investigate the matter relating to the Rs 3,250 crore loan extended by ICICI Bank to Videocon Group in 2012 because “the quantum involved is several thousand crores” and it concerns “public money”.
It is learnt that the Mumbai SFIO received a complaint relating to ICICI Bank, Videocon Group and their promoters in February 2018. The complaint, sources said, alleged “corporate malpractice, surreptitious transactions and round tripping of money”.
Seeking guidance from the Director, SFIO, the Mumbai office wrote to the head office on February 27, stating that the “case has got issues pertaining to laundering of money, evasion of taxes and banking transactions. Considering the present environment, the allegations made in the complaint require to be investigated”. It pointed out that since “the quantum involved is several thousand crores” and “public money” is involved, it will be proper for the SFIO to investigate the case.
On Sunday, The Indian Express reported that the CBI and the investigation wing of the Income Tax Department too commenced “suo motu” inquiries into transactions and money flows in the ICICI Bank-Videocon case. Officials in the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said following The Indian Express report on the Rs 3,250-crore loan to the Videocon Group from ICICI Bank, the investigation wing in Mumbai commenced a preliminary enquiry. The focus of the scrutiny was to be the “money trail” among key players and bankers.
On March 29, The Indian Express reported that in December 2008, Venugopal Dhoot of the Videocon Group set up a company called NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd (NRPL) with Deepak Kochhar, husband of ICICI Bank Managing Director and CEO Chanda Kochhar, and two of her relatives; then gave a Rs 64-crore loan to this company through a fully owned entity before he transferred the latter’s ownership to a trust headed by Deepak Kochhar for just Rs 9 lakh.
The transfer of the company to Deepak Kochhar happened six months after the Videocon Group got a loan of Rs 3,250 crore from ICICI Bank, raising questions of propriety and conflict of interest. Almost 86 per cent of that loan (Rs 2,810 crore) remained unpaid and the Videocon account was declared an NPA in 2017.
Coming to Chanda Kochhar’s defence, ICICI Bank chairman M K Sharma said she was part of the credit committee that sanctioned the loan, but did not recuse herself. “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 told TV channels the day The Indian Express report appeared.
Earlier, the ICICI Bank had issued a press release stating “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 Kochhar, and that “malicious and unfounded rumours” were being spread to “malign the Bank”. The statement did not, however, address a specific query from The Indian Express on the Deepak Kochhar-Venugopal Dhoot transactions or the conflict of interest.