Union Minister Arun Jaitley Friday hit out at the CBI’s ICICI Bank probe calling it a case of “investigative adventurism” that had digressed from focusing on just the primary targets. His remarks were an apparent reference to the CBI mentioning top bank officers — other than former MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar, her husband and Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot — saying their roles would be under probe.
Records show that these officers named by the CBI held key positions in the bank’s top management and on board-level committees, including the credit committee, between 2008 and 2013, when the controversial loans were disbursed to Videocon Industries despite the conflict of interest involving Chanda Kochhar’s husband receiving a favourable financial deal from Dhoot.
The CBI named current ICICI Bank CEO Sandeep Bakshi; former ICICI Bank executive director K. Ramkumar; Goldman Sachs India Chairman Sonjoy Chatterjee; MD and CEO of ICICI Prudential Life N S Kannan; Standard Chartered Bank CEO Zarin Daruwala; Tata Capital head Rajiv Sabharwal; New Development Bank president K V Kamath and Tata Capital senior advisor Homi Khusrokhan, apart from booking Chanda Kochhar, Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot.
Given the positions occupied in the bank over the said period, former chairman Kamath and Chanda Kochhar virtually controlled the operations of the bank besides being members of the Credit Committee when the controversial loans were sanctioned to the Videocon group, according to the Bank’s annual report.
While Kamath quit as Chairman in 2015 to take up the post of President in New Development Bank, Chanda Kochhar was promoted as MD and CEO and continued on the Credit Committee till 2017-18. Kochhar was also on the Fraud Monitoring Committee of the bank. Kamath chaired the Credit Committee till he left the bank in 2015.
While ICICI Bank disbursed the loans to Videocon on September 7, 2009, Dhoot transferred Rs 64 crore to Deepak Kochhar, Chanda Kochhar’s husband on the next day (September 8), according to FIR filed by the CBI.
Kamath was MD & CEO up to April 30, 2009 and Chairman with effect from May 1, 2009. Chanda Kochhar then took over as MD and CEO.
Sandeep Bakhshi, the then Deputy Managing Director, N S Kannan, Executive Director & CFO and K. Ramkumar, Executive Director, were on the board during 2009-10. Bakhshi moved to ICICI Prudential Insurance in 2010. Kannan continued until 2018 when he was moved to ICICI Prudential Insurance.
Significantly, in 2009-10, both Kamath and Chanda Kochhar were on the Credit Committee which vetted and cleared the loan. The board headed by Kamath as the Chairman and Kochhar as MD and CEO cleared the loan.
The other three members of the credit committee in 2009-10 were Narendra Murkumbi, MS Ramachandran and MK Sharma. Sharma was the chairman at ICICI Bank in 2018, when the ICICI Bank-Videocon case was first reported by The Indian Express and the board led by him came out to give a clean chit to Chanda Kochhar.
The Credit Committee of the board, apart from sanctioning credit proposals based on the bank’s credit authorisation framework, reviews developments in key industrial sectors and the bank’s exposure to these sectors as well as to large borrower accounts and borrower groups.
The Credit Committee also reviews major credit portfolios, non-performing loans, accounts under watch, overdues and incremental sanctions.
A summary of the reviews carried out by the Credit Committee and Risk Committee is reported to the Board of Directors. In 2009-10, according to information from the company’s annual report, the Credit Committee comprised KV Kamath as Chairman, Narendra Murkumbi, M S Ramachandran, M K Sharma and Chanda Kochhar. The composition of the Credit Committee in 2012-13 included Kamath as Chairman, Homi Khusrokhan, M S Ramachandran and Chanda Kochhar
In 2015-16, the Credit Committee included Kochhar as Chairperson, Homi Khusrokhan and M S Ramachandran.
However, in 2016-17, the Committee was reconstituted with MK Sharma as Chairman and Homi Khusrokhan and Chanda Kochhar as members. “A big loan is vetted by the Credit Committee which approves it and then forwards the loan proposal to the board. Kamath and Chanda Kochhar controlled both the board and the credit committee. Nothing moved without their consent. Other directors normally went by the recommendations of the management,” said a source.
Kochhar’s elevation as the Managing Director & CEO of ICICI Bank came in 2009 and since then she has been responsible for the bank’s diverse operations in India and overseas. Kamath took up the role of non-executive Chairman.
While the CBI filed a criminal case against Chanda Kochhar, Deepak Kochhar and VN Dhoot in the ICICI Bank-Videocon loan case, it also named the six former/current officials and one independent director in the FIR. Stating that they were members of the sanctioning committee that cleared loans to Videocon Group companies, the FIR called for their roles to be investigated.