A day after the CBI booked former MD and CEO of ICICI Bank Chanda Kochhar along with her husband Deepak Kochhar and Videocon Group’s V N Dhoot for cheating and conspiracy, the officer investigating the case was transferred out.
SP Sudhanshu Dhar Mishra, who was part of the Banking and Securities Fraud Cell (BSFC) of CBI in Delhi and signed the Chanda Kochhar FIR on January 22, was transferred to the agency’s Economic Offences Branch in Ranchi the very next day.
Two days later, Union Minister Arun Jaitley went on social media against the CBI FIR suggesting it was “investigative adventurism” and a “journey to nowhere.” On Friday, Finance Minister Piyush Goyal and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman retweeted Jaitley’s comments. Calls and text messages sent to the CBI spokesperson did not elicit any response.
Government sources told The Sunday Express that Jaitley’s comments were mere “elderly advice,” and should not be construed as any meddling in the agency. “Jaitley has made a valid argument. You cannot cast the net too wide on the basis of presumptions without any evidence,” said a senior government functionary Saturday. “How can you name top board members without any evidence? All decision-making will come to a halt.”
“The Government has nothing to do with the case,” said an official. “We (government) have constantly been at an arm’s length. It’s the CBI’s decision.”
The Congress accused Jaitley of pressuring the CBI and signalling it to “go slow” in the case. Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma said that Jaitley’s remarks amounted to “rebuking” and “threatening” the agency.
His colleague Jairam Ramesh said: “His statement is extraordinary. It is a clear signal to the CBI to go slow. It also smacks of double standards which, of course, is not new for him. He called Vodafone (case) tax terrorism and then did exactly the same thing in regard to Cairn. He calls ICICI case investigative adventurism yet does exactly the same in regard to his predecessor.”
“(When Bhupinder Singh Hooda was raided Friday) The BJP attacked me for asking the CBI to act within the ambit of the law and not become an instrument of targeted political vendetta. Now what about Jaitley…he rebukes and threatens,” Sharma said.
ICICI Bank and Chanda Kochhar have been under regulatory scrutiny after The Indian Express first reported on March 29, 2018 that Dhoot 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 — on December 8, 2017, the CBI had registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the sanctioning of the loan.
The amount was part of the Rs 40,000-crore loan that Videocon Group secured from a consortium of 20 banks led by SBI. Almost 86 per cent of the Rs 3,250 crore loan (Rs 2,810 crore) remained unpaid. The Videocon account was declared an NPA in 2017.
According to CBI, on August 26, 2009, the sanctioning committee of ICICI Bank that included Chanda Kochhar approved a loan of Rs 300 crore to Videocon International Electronics Ltd (VIEL) “in contravention of the rules and policy”. Kochhar, the CBI alleged, “dishonestly” abused her official position to disburse this loan on September 7, 2008 as the very next day, her husband’s firm Nupower Renewables received Rs 64 crore from Videocon Industries Ltd (VIL) to acquire its first power plant.
Former Union Minister and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance M Veerappa Moily said Jaitley has now realised what “investigative adventurism” is.
“I don’t think it was an off-the-cuff remark. Ministers in the NDA government are not free. They are not independent. They are being pressured by the party higher-ups. I am not talking about this case or that case…but political vendetta is very clearly seen and it is now proved because their own minister has come out,” he said.
Some former CBI officers agreed with Jaitley’s criticism of naming so many top banking officials in the FIR when they have not been arraigned as accused. “This is a very poorly drafted FIR. Probe agencies never make roving enquiries. They should focus on the crime they are probing. This type of investigation will never see an end,” said former CBI Special Director NR Wasan, who has served in the agency for 18 years.
Referring to naming of top bankers, a former CBI Director said, “This was a totally unnecessary. The CBI tradition is to name those against whom there is enough evidence. Those who are in the realm of suspicion are mentioned as ‘unknown others’. Question them in the course of probe and if you find evidence, chargesheet them. What’s the point of naming people who are not accused. Jaitley is not wrong.”
A former Director, however, expressed surprise over the government’s attack. “In such big cases, you always intimate the government. K V Kamath is a big name. He is representing India in the BRICS. How come no one in the government knew he was being named?” he said.