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Monday, July 23, 2018

ICICI-Videocon deal: CBDT, CBI begin probes; Bank officials questioned

The CBI, which registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the ICICI Bank-Videocon deal some weeks ago, recently questioned nodal officers of ICICI Bank as part of its investigation into a possible quid pro quo in the Rs 3,250 crore loan that the bank gave to the Videocon Group in 2012.

Written by Ritu Sarin , Rahul Tripathi | New Delhi | Updated: April 1, 2018 7:35:39 am
ICICI Bank chairman M K Sharma has clarified that Chanda Kochhar was part of the credit committee that sanctioned the loan. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

Along with the CBI, the investigation wing of the Income-Tax (I-T) Department, too, has commenced what is being described as a “suo motu” inquiry into transactions and money flows in the ICICI Bank-Videocon case. Officials in the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) told The Sunday Express that following The Indian Express report on the Rs 3,250 crore loan to the Videocon Group from ICICI Bank, the investigation wing in Mumbai has commenced a preliminary enquiry.

The focus of the scrutiny would be the “money trail” among the key players and bankers, and a decision would soon be taken on what action could be taken by the I-T Department.

“Investigation wings do not need any instructions from the CBDT to start inquiries especially if the transactions are reported to be of the stated amounts. So the DG Mumbai will examine all aspects of the loans and company transactions and, by next week, a clear picture of violations, if any, could emerge,” a key Income-Tax official said.

The CBI, which registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the ICICI Bank-Videocon deal some weeks ago, recently questioned nodal officers of ICICI Bank as part of its investigation into a possible quid pro quo in the Rs 3,250 crore loan that the bank gave to the Videocon Group in 2012.

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Agency officials said they were also studying relevant documents of the transaction, and if they came across any evidence indicating wrongdoing, the bank’s MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar, and her husband Deepak Kochhar, could be summoned for detailed questioning.

They said the statements of nodal officers of the bank, who were involved in processing the loan, have been recorded as part of the PE, which named Videocon Group promoter Venugopal Dhoot, Deepak Kochhar, and unknown bank officials.

It did not name Chanda Kochhar, and the decision on whether to include her name would be taken later, the officials said. They added that they had initiated an enquiry based on information from a “source”, and recorded the statements of the bank officials.

A PE is the first step to verify allegations of wrongdoing. As part of procedure, CBI collects material to determine if there is prima facie wrongdoing that may require registration of an FIR. The agency normally has three months to decide whether to close the PE or to convert it into a regular FIR.

Also Read | Who is Deepak Kochhar?

The Indian Express reported on the Videocon-ICICI Bank deal in its edition of March 29. Records show Dhoot provided crores of rupees to a firm promoted by Deepak Kochhar and two relatives six months after the 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 the Videocon Group secured from a consortium of 20 banks led by SBI.

Also Read | Who is Venugopal Dhoot?

Dhoot 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. 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.

Almost 86 per cent of the Rs 3,250 crore loan (Rs 2,810 crore) remains unpaid. The Videocon account was declared an NPA in 2017.

ICICI Bank chairman M K Sharma has clarified that Chanda Kochhar was part of the credit committee that sanctioned the loan, and 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 on Thursday.

Also Read | Who is Chanda Kochhar?

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 Kochhar, 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 the Deepak Kochhar-Venugopal Dhoot transactions or the conflict of interest.

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