Mumbai, September 9: A special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court Tuesday remanded businessman Deepak Kochhar to the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) custody till September 19. Kochhar and his wife, former ICICI Bank chief executive Chanda and Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot are accused in a money-laundering case registered more than a year and half ago by the federal agency.
ED’s counsel Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh sought custody of Kochhar stating that the accused was not cooperating in the investigation when confronted with fresh evidence by ED sleuths, The Economic Times reported.
Appearing for Kochhar, advocate Vijay Aggarwal, who joined the hearing through app-based video communication service, Google Meet, argued that his client was not presented before the court within the required 24-hours of his detention. Aggarwal contended that Kochhar joined the ED’s probe at the agency’s Mumbai office at 10.30 am on Monday but was presented before the special PMLA court at 12.230 pm on Tuesday.
To this, the ED’s counsel countered stating that Kochhar was arrested at 8.06pm on Monday and was presented before the court well within the stipulated time period. Aggarwal also argued that his client has the ‘right to silence’, hence he cannot be deemed as non-cooperative. Chanda Kochhar was present in the court while the hearing was underway.
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.
“All this while (Deepak) Kochhar has maintained that the fund received by NuPower from Videocon was a business transaction and has nothing to do with ICICI Bank sanctioning a loan around the same time. He has denied allegations of quid pro quo,” said the official cited earlier. “There is fresh evidence on the money trail between NuPower and Videocon, and Kochhar was quizzed about the same.”
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 Kochhars are being probed also by the income tax department and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
Probes by the tax department and the corporate affairs ministry concluded that Rs 64 crore of payments allegedly received by Deepak Kochhar’s group firms through layered transactions from Videocon group firms remained unexplained. According to people in the know of these probes, while the report of the tax department’s investigation wing stated that transactions entered under “business expenses” by Kochhar’s company didn’t amount to “genuine business transactions”, the ministry suggested that the Videocon group “had no serious intention to recover the funds”.
On the attached property, the probe had revealed that the apartment was bought at a price lower than the market rate through a company in which the Videocon Group had a stake, said one of the people.
“Both the income tax department and the panel headed by retired Justice BN Srikrishna (appointed by ICICI Bank to look into the allegations against Chanda Kochhar) investigated the purchase of Kochhar’s current residence. Their reports concluded that the flat was bought from the Videocon Group in a complex transaction in the mid-1990s,” he said. “The apartment was purchased through Credential Finance, a financial services firm established by Deepak Kochhar and his brother Rajiv Kochhar. Videocon Group too had a stake in Credential Finance,” he said.
According to the people, the flat was owned by Quality Appliances (now Quality Techno Advisors), a firm related to the Videocon Group, until March 2016. It was transferred to Deepak Kochhar in 2016 through a trust at a nominal price.