The Income Tax (I-T) department has started probing a 2010 real estate transaction between ICICI Bank and Venugopal Dhoot-promoted Videocon Group as part of its investigation into possible tax evasion in the ICICI Bank-Videocon loan case, The Indian Express has learnt.
The sale of a 13-storey building, Radhika Apartments, which was earlier the staff quarters of ICICI Bank, in Prabhadevi in central Mumbai to Videocon Industries has come under the scanner following allegations of possible quid pro quo. It was allegedly sold to Dhoot’s firm at a much lower price than the existing market rate at that time.
Sources said Radhika Apartments was sold at a price of Rs 17,000 per sq ft for Rs 61 crore to Dhoot when the existing market price in the area was about Rs 25,000 per sq ft. In 2010, Dhoot said that the Videocon Group bought the building consisting 27 flats from ICICI Bank to house employees of its telecom venture which was launched in the city the same year.
Venugopal Dhoot and ICICI Bank have not responded to emails and phone calls for comment.
As first reported by The Indian Express on March 29, Dhoot provided crores of rupees to a firm he had set up with Deepak Kochhar, husband of ICICI Bank managing director and chief executive officer Chanda Kochhar, and two relatives, six months after the Videocon group took Rs 3,250 crore as loan from ICICI Bank in 2012.
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.
Chanda Kochhar is currently on leave after ICICI Bank decided to probe allegations of conflict of interest and quid pro quo against her while dealing with certain customers/borrowers of the bank including Videocon. An independent investigation by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice B N Srikrishna is looking into the allegations against Kochhar.
On June 21, The Indian Express reported that the Income Tax department was probing the acquisition of the current family residence of Chanda Kochhar at 45, CCI Chambers CHS Ltd, in South Mumbai by her husband Deepak Kochhar in a complex transaction involving firms linked to Videocon Group.
Sources said tax authorities have found that the Kochhar family’s residence since 1998 was bought through Credential Finance Ltd, a financial services firm set up by Deepak Kochhar and his brother Rajiv Kochhar in the mid-1990s. In 2009, Videocon Industries Ltd (VIL) nominated Quality Appliances Pvt Ltd, a firm with links to the Videocon Group, to take over the flat from Credential Finance in lieu of the final settlement of the amount due to VIL from Credential Finance.
According to the agreement, Credential Finance transferred the property to settle the money it had taken from VIL. After 2010, the same flat was re-acquired by Deepak Kochhar at a price, which was lower than the market price.
This June, Videocon Telecommunications Ltd, the telecom arm of Videocon Group, was taken to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) after country’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) filed an insolvency petition against the firm for failing to repay Rs 234 crore to the lender.
While the current owner of Radhika Apartments is SBI, it is not clear if the lender bought the building from Videocon Group or took possession of it as part of its loan recovery mechanism.
Videocon Industries has also been admitted for bankruptcy proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). It was one of 28 firms mentioned in the RBI’s second list of corporate defaulters. The consolidated debt of the company stood at Rs 44,827 crore as on March 31, 2017, according to data provider Capitaline.