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CBI files PE against ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar’s husband and Videocon’s Venugopal Dhoot(Indian Express)

The CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the alleged nexus between ICICI BankBSE -1.94 % MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar and Videocon group chairman Venugopal Dhoot.

Sources said the PE will seek to ascertain veracity of the allegations that Dhoot provided crores of rupees to a firm promoted by Deepak Kochhar and two relatives six months after 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 Videocon group secured from a consortium of 20 banks led by SBI.

Dhoot allegedly gave Rs 64 crore in 2010 through a fully owned entity to NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd (NRPL) he had set up with Deepak Kochhar and two of his relatives. It is alleged that 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.

Sources said that unlike her spouse and Dhoot, Chanda Kochhar’s name was not mentioned in the PE, which was registered a month ago on the basis of information received. However, the PE mentions “unknown bank officials”.

A PE is the first step to investigate an alleged act of corruption/fraud. As part of the procedure, the CBI collects material to determine if there is prima facie criminality requiring the registration of an FIR. If investigators conclude that there is not enough basis to register a regular case, the PE is closed after approval from the CBI director. The agency can file a PE on the basis of a complaint, on the directions of central/state governments/courts and also on its “source information report (SIR)”. There is no time frame to finish a probe registered as a PE.
Sources said Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot, along with “unknown” officials of ICICI Bank and other banks who constituted the consortium, will be called for examination soon. A decision on whether to call Chanda Kochhar will be taken after examination of documents, they added.

The CBI has collected documents related to the Rs 40,000-crore loan as well as documents related to Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot setting up NRPL.

ICICI Bank has robustly defended Chanda Kochhar and said it reposed “full faith” in her. It also said there was no question or scope of any favouritism, nepotism or quid pro quo in the loans to Videocon.

The dealings between Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot have snowballed into a controversy over alleged “conflict of interest”, with a whistleblower accusing Chanda Kochhar of misusing her position to promote her spouse’s business.

On Thursday, ICICI Bank’s chairman M K Sharma had claimed that the lender had satisfactorily replied to all questions raised by regulators in the case. He also defended Chanda Kochhar’s decision not to have recused herself from the credit committee meeting which sanctioned loans to the Videocon group.

Sharma said there was no conflict of interest as Videocon group was not an investor in NuPower, adding that Chanda Kochhar had made all disclosures to the board in advance in accordance with regulatory guidelines.

In his defence, Dhoot said his investment in Supreme Energy— the company alleged to have invested in Deepak Kochhar-promoted NuPower Renewables — was only in thousands of rupees and a temporary one. He denied that any Videocon group company had funded NuPower when he was an investor in Supreme.

The allegations were first levelled by a shareholder in 2016, who had written to the PM and the CBI director.

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