Mumbai, November 13: In what is potentially a major relief for banker Chanda Kochhar, the former MD & CEO of ICICI bank and her arrested businessman husband Deepak Kochhar, the adjudicating authority of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has not confirmed the provisional attachments of movable and immovable properties worth Rs 78.15 crores owned by the couple.
In January this year, ED had sought to attach assets worth Rs 78.15 crores including the south Mumbai residence of the Kochhars, wind farm projects owned by Kochhar’s company Nupower Renewables Private Limited and its subsidiaries namely Nupower Wind Farms Limited and Echanda Urja Private Limited. Also, Rs 10.50 lakh seized from the registered premises of Kochhar’s company Pacific Capital Services Private Limited at the time of searches conducted by the agency in connection with a 2019 money laundering case probed by the central agency against Kochhar, Videocon group chairman VN Dhoot and eight others was also sought to be attached.
ED’s probe is based on the predicate offence registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the same matter.
In its 800-page order, adjudicating authority (AA), Tushar Shah, Member (law), observed that the Rs 300 crore rupee term loan (RTL) sanctioned by ICICI bank when Chanda Kochhar was at the helm to Videocon International Electronics Ltd. (VIEL) — which is the focus of the CBI’s FIR— didn’t turn into a NPA, The Economic Times reported.
Further, investment of Rs. 64 crore by Videocon’s Dhoot in Nupower Renewables Private Limited (NRL) managed by Deepak Kochhar was not linked in any way with the FIR filed by CBI. Also both the agencies failed to interrogate any of the senior officials (mentioned in the FIR) namely Sandeep Bakshi, K Ramkumar, Sonjoy Chatterjee, N S Kannan, Zarin Daruwala, Rajiv Sabharwal, K V Kamath and Homi Khusrokhan.
“From the reasons discussed, the flat at CCI chamber, seized cash of Rs 10.50 lakhs, assets of NRL and its subsidiaries are not involved in money laundering,” the order concludes.
When reached for a comment, defence counsel Vijay Aggarwal told ET, “Before adjudicating authority where prosecution is not to prove beyond reasonable doubt but has to show prima facie case in their favour, ED has not succeeded. So how will it succeed in the criminal court where standard of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. It is like saying a person who failed the exam for a peon would pass IAS”.
AA observes that while the PE commenced by CBI in 2017 was pertaining to credit facilities of about Rs. 3250 crores extended by ICICI bank to companies belonging to Videocon Group promoted by Dhoot; the agency’s FIR, ‘in substance’ is for a RTL of Rs. 300 crore sanctioned to VEIL
“The FIR fails to justify any investigation having been done before alleging the wrongful loss includes respect of the said RTL of Rs. 300 crores from ICICI Bank to M/s VIEL. The said RTL loan account of Rs. 300 crores is shown by Kochhar to be not declared NPA,” the order reviewed by ET reads. “….The companies in respect of which investigation was commenced has no reference in the FIR filed. The amount alleged earlier of Rs. 3250 crores is also not referred,” it observes.
The AA also concludes that the loan Rs 300 crore was in line with the credit policy of the bank and never turned into a NPA. “Rs. 300 crores was in line with the credit policy and earlier practice of ICICI Bank. It has also emerged from the facts pointed out by Kochhar that the loan of Rs. 300 crores given to VIEL in 2009 has been repaid to ICICI Bank and it is therefore pointed out that there is no question of any loss being caused to ICICI Bank with respect to this loan. The said loan account of VIEL was never declared NPA”.
The AA also observed that contrary to the probe agencies contention that Rs. 64 Crore transferred by Dhoot’s VIL to Kochhar’s company was ‘illegal gratification’ the transaction was a case of ‘genuine business investment’ contemplated much ahead in time of the sanction of the Rs 300 crore loan.
“The business decision and the transaction of investment of Rs. 64 crores in NRL managed by Deepak Kochhar husband of Chanda Kochhar by V.N Dhoot from M/s SEPL, is not linked in anyway with the FIR filed by CBI with the fact of sanctioning of RTL of Rs. 300 crore by the ICICI Committee wherein Kochhar was one of the members”.
On ED’s contention that the trial might long and therefore the properties should be provisionally attached, the AA observed, “The deputy director issued the provisional attachment order without forming the justifying reasonable belief as statutorily required.The revelation of modus would not lead to frittering of proceeds of crime during pendency of further investigation as the nature of assets concerned and absence of attempt, cannot justify the invocation of proviso of PMLA,” it states
In a related development the special Prevention of Money Laundering (PMLA) court denied bail to Deepak Kocchar sought on the ground of failure of the investigating agency to file the prosecution complaint (PC) within the stipulated period of 60 days from his arrest. He was arrested on September 6. However, his bail plea on the merits of the case will be heard on November 23.