The CBI’s FIR alleging cheating and conspiracy flies in the face of repeated denials by the ICICI Bank board on the issue of conflict of interest involving loans to Videocon Industries under MD & CEO Chanda Kochhar’s leadership and her husband Deepak Kochhar receiving a favourable financial deal from Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot.
The board gave her a clean chit immediately after allegations surfaced in March 2018 saying there was “no question of any quid pro quo/ nepotism/ conflict of interest.” In contrast, the CBI has charged Chanda Kochhar, her husband and Dhoot with a cognisable offence and registered a criminal case.
A day after The Indian Express had sent a detailed questionnaire to ICICI Bank for its response to its findings on loans given by ICICI Bank under Chanda Kochhar’s leadership, ICICI Bank had called for a board meeting and issued a press statement on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 giving her a clean chit.
“The Board has come to the conclusion that there is no question of any quid pro quo/ nepotism/ conflict of interest as is being alleged in various rumours. The Board has full confidence and reposes full faith in the Bank’s MD & CEO, Ms. Chanda Kochhar. The Board also commends the entire management team under the leadership of the MD & CEO for their hard work and dedication. We would urge you not to be misled by these rumours which are being spread to malign the Bank and its top management,” said the bank in its statement.
After The Indian Express report appeared, then ICICI Bank chairman M K Sharma addressed a press conference and said: “Kochhar was a part of the credit committee which sanctioned the loan facilities to the Videocon group. The board does not see (that) as a conflict of interest in any manner since Videocon group is not an investor in NuPower Renewables. Hence, there was no need to recuse herself from this committee.”
The chairman’s assessment, however, runs in sharp contrast to CBI’s assessment. Stating that Chanda Kochhar was one of the members of the sanctioning committee that disbursed loans to Videocon International Electronics Limited on September 7, 2009, the CBI FIR notes: “On the very next day on 08/09/2009, V N Dhoot transferred an amount of Rs 64 crore to NuPower Renewable Ltd managed by Deepak Kochhar, husband of Chanda Kochhar from Videocon Industries Ltd (VIL) through his company Supreme Energy Pvt Ltd. This was the first major capital received by NRL to acquire its 1st power plant. Thus Chanda Kochhar got illegal gratification/undue benefit through her husband from VIL/ VN Dhoot.”
How loan turns NPA with all at top watching
The CBI FIR is telling in how a loan turns into an NPA at India’s second-largest private bank led by a high-profile CEO. It shows how personal-professional lines were blurred and checks and balances failed. The Board has egg on its face given its steadfast support to Chanda Kochhar. All eyes are now on the Board to see how it responds to the CBI’s conclusion that the current CEO also needs to be probed.
Further, while the bank said that there are adequate checks and balances in loan appraisal, rating and approval processes and that “no individual employee, whatever may be his or her position, has the ability to influence the credit decision at the Bank”, the CBI has pointed that various sanctioning committees of ICICI Bank cleared loans to Videocon Group companies for the purpose of “enabling them to repay the unsecured loan availed from VIL. Further, a loan was sanctioned to VIL for refinancing the existing loans of the company.”
The CBI FIR goes on to say: “These loans were sanctioned in violation of the Credit Policy of the bank during the relevant period.”
It further says that these loans have turned NPAs resulting into wrongful loss to ICICI Bank and wrongful gains to the borrowers and accused persons and thus called for investigation against other former and current senior officials of ICICI Bank who were members of the sanctioning committees.