ICICI Bank on Wednesday sacked former MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar and revoked her bonuses since April 2009 after Justice B N Srikrishna’s report indicted her for violating the lender’s code of conduct. Now market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), after a separate investigation, has initiated adjudication proceedings against Videocon Industries (VIL) and its chairman Venugopal Dhoot for alleged violations in its transactions with Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar and his companies.
Sources confirmed that Sebi, which began probing Dhoot in April 2018, along with Chanda Kochhar, completed its Dhoot probe in November 2018. Since then it has initiated adjudication proceedings after it found Dhoot and VIL in violation of Sebi regulations dealing with related party transactions and also for non-disclosures.
Venugopal Dhoot, Videocon Group, ICICI Bank and Chanda Kochhar have been under regulatory scrutiny after The Indian Express first reported on March 29, 2018 that Dhoot transferred the ownership of one of his firms that provided crores of rupees to a firm he had set up with Deepak Kochhar and two relatives six months after the Videocon Group got Rs 3,250 crore as loan from ICICI Bank in 2012. It was declared an NPA in 2017.
While Reserve Bank of India is yet to take any action in the case, Sebi’s adjudication proceedings against ICICI Bank and Kochhar are currently on and sources said that, if proven guilty, a “monetary penalty” will be imposed.
Sebi’s probe so far has found several deals involving Videocon and Dhoot and ICICI Bank raise issues of conflict of interest.
Incidentally, the Justice Srikrishna committee itself was formed only after Sebi asked ICICI Bank in April-May 2018 as to what action it was taking in the case. “It was only then that the bank said it was setting up a committee to investigate,” a source said.
While Justice Srikrishna found Kochhar guilty of violating the lender’s code of conduct, Sebi, which concluded its investigation into Chanda Kochhar in early May 2018, had found her in violation of the bank’s Code of Conduct. Sebi found that while Kochhar claimed, year after year, that she was abiding by the code, she wasn’t.
Sources said that though Kochhar claimed in her submissions that it was only after she got the letter from SEBI that she made enquiries with her husband and ascertained is business dealings, events contradict this.
“Interestingly, in an investigation report in 2016, Kochhar had denied all such allegations of quid pro quo, nepotism, etc. So it was clear that she was aware of the allegations in August 2016 itself. Clearly, this raised many questions as in 2018 she was claiming that she came to know about her husband’s dealings only after her enquiries following Sebi’s letter,” said the source.
In its submission to Sebi, ICICI Bank noted eight instances of loans of credit granted to Videocon amounting to more than Rs 5,400 crore, including Rs 3,250 crore in 2012. And that all these loans were approved when Chanda Kochhar was also a member of the bank’s credit committee. This coincided with the period her husband had business interests with Videocon.
E-mails sent to Sebi and Dhoot did not elicit any response.