Mumbai, October 13: Seeking further custody of businessman Deepak Kochhar in a money laundering case, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) Tuesday produced him before the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court here. 

The couple — Deepak and wife Chanda, the former ICICI Bank chief executive, and Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot are accused in a money-laundering case registered more than a year and half ago by the ED. 

Defence counsel Vijay Aggarwal argued that the federal agency cannot seek Kochhar’s custody as he still requires post-discharge care after being hospitalised for Covid-19, The Economic Times reported. 

Aggarwal also cited judgement in the Anupam Kulkarni case which states that while considering the application for custody, police custody should be granted only during the first 15 days from the date of production of the accused before the court and subsequently if any, it should be judicial custody. “There is no bar on the interrogation of the accused who is in judicial custody during the periods of 90 or 60 days,” Aggarwal contended. 

However, the ED argued that after the accused was discharged on Monday and produced before the court in compliance with the earlier directions given by the court of producing the accused within three days from his date of discharge to seek further custody. 

Kochhar was arrested on September 7 in Mumbai and remanded to police custody until September 19. The next day he was taken to Delhi for further investigation as the PMLA case is registered with the Delhi unit of the agency. On September 14, Kochhar tested Covid positive. The ED then moved the court which transmitted the accused to judicial custody. On Tuesday, the ED produced Kochhar before the special PMLA court to seek the remaining custody of five days that they couldn’t avail after Kochhar tested positive for the contagion. 

The court acceded to ED’s argument and granted the agency five days of further custody. 

“While considering the rights and liberty of the accused we cannot ignore that the investigation agency also gets fair opportunity for investigation. Here accused is the prime accused. In such circumstances a fair chance of investigation has to be given,” additional sessions judge Milind Kurtadikar observed. 

The ED had filed the money-laundering case in January 2019, after the Central Bureau of Investigation booked the Kochhars, Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot and six others over alleged quid pro quo in loan transactions between ICICI Bank and Videocon. The CBI had accused Chanda Kochhar of receiving a kickback through her husband from Videocon for sanctioning loans. The Kochhars, Dhoot and the other accused had denied the allegations. 

In January, this year, the ED had provisionally attached assets worth Rs 78 crore including a South Mumbai apartment of the Kochhars, attributing those to be proceeds of crime. The ED’s adjudicating authority has yet to confirm the attachment. 

The investigation by ED has allegedly revealed that ICICI Bank disbursed a loan of Rs 300 crore (Rs 283.45 crore actual disbursed amount) to Videocon International Electronics Ltd (VIEL) on September 7, 2009 when Chanda was at the helm. On the very next day, Rs 64 crore was transferred out of the loan received by VIL group from ICICI was transferred to NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd (NRL) through Supreme Energy Private Ltd (SEPL). “The said amount of Rs 64 crore was not used by VIL for the intended purpose and was transferred to NRL,” the ED’s earlier remand application states. 

ED has termed Rs 64 crores as proceeds of crime and is treating it as ‘quid pro quo’ for the loan sanctioned to VIL group by ICICI when Chanda was heading it. The agency claims that the said money was used to purchase assets including wind farm projects of 33.15 MW capacity. 

While Kochhar has been director of NRL since its incorporation in December 2008, SEPL was acquired by Pinnacle Energy, a family trust of Kochhar and he is managing trustee of the same. 

The ED claims that an elaborate structure through a web of companies was created to hold the amount of Rs 64 crores. “Loan funds travelled from VIL to NRL through SEPL, two intermediary companies were brought in for the purpose of layering. The proceeds of crime of Rs 64 crore received from VIL were utilised by NRL for purchase of properties including wind farm projects,” the earlier remand application adds. 

“Investigation has revealed that accounting entities were made in the books of SEPL i.e creation of provisioning of Rs 32 lakhs ( for Rs 64 crore transferred by VIL in NRL through SEPL) and its reversal follows the pattern of events in ICICI Bank pertaining to allegation/ inquiry against Chanda Kochhar. This was all done on the instructions of Deepak,” it further adds. 

The Kochhars are being probed also by the income tax department and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

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