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ED questions Deepak Kochhar over ‘new evidence’ of money trail in 6 ICICI loans to Videocon

Deepak Kochhar was arrested late Monday. He is being questioned in Mumbai but has been ‘evasive’, says ED. His counsel calls the arrest ‘illegal’.

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New Delhi: Armed with “fresh evidence” of money trail in the ICICI Bank-Videocon case, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is questioning Deepak Kochhar, husband of former ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar, in connection with its money laundering probe into loans the bank gave to the Videocon Group for alleged pecuniary benefits.

According to sources in the ED, the evidence pertains to six loans to the tune of Rs 1,875 crore that ICICI Bank sanctioned to Videocon Group between June 2009 and October 2011.

Deepak Kochhar, who was arrested late Monday, is currently being questioned in Mumbai as he refused to travel to Delhi amid the pandemic. However, he has been “evasive”, ThePrint has learnt.

“We have been asking specific questions. Confronting him with fresh evidence, records, but he is evasive, has not been answering questions,” said a source in the agency.

ED is probing Deepak and Chanda Kochhar for alleged money laundering in the loans ICICI Bank gave to Videocon promoter Venugopal Dhoot. These loans later turned into non-performing assets (NPAs).

According to the ED, Videocon allegedly made investments into companies held by Deepak Kochhar in exchange for these loans after their disbursal was cleared by then ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, who took an early retirement in October 2019 in the wake of these allegations.

Speaking to ThePrint, Deepak Kochhar’s counsel Vijay Aggarwal said, “This arrest is illegal as my client has been cooperating in the investigation. The offences are punishable for imprisonment up to 7 years only, so he cannot be arrested like this when he has always joined the investigation on summons.”

In the past, Videocon chief Venugopal Dhoot has also rubbished the allegations. In April 2018, he said he knew all 12 members of the panel that had cleared the loan amount, and asserted that personal ties between two persons do not always result in criminal acts.

He also said Chanda Kochhar did “nothing illegal”. “She was only one of the 12 members of the committee which cleared the loan (of Rs 3,250 crore) to Videocon Group,” he said.

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New evidence

According to sources in the ED, the fresh evidence pertains to the loans sanctioned to Dhoot.

One of these loans is worth Rs 300 crore that was cleared in 2009. Just a day after its disbursal, Dhoot invested Rs 64 crore in Deepak Kochhar-owned NuPower Renewables Pvt. Ltd (NRPL), through his company, Supreme Energy.

According to the ED, this was allegedly a bribe in exchange for the loans.

In a statement released in January this year, the agency had said these funds were then used to generate more money. “Further, net revenue of Rs. 10.65 crore was generated by NRPL from these tainted funds. Therefore, proceeds of crime amounting to Rs. 74.65 crores were transferred to/generated in NRPL,” it said.

The agency is also looking at some loans that were sanctioned under Chanda Kochhar, including to Essar Steel Minnesota, Sterling Biotech, and Bhushan Steel and Power Ltd, for alleged kickbacks. However, the links of these cases to Deepak Kochhar hasn’t been established so far.

The case against Kochhars and Videocon

The case came to light in January 2019 when the CBI registered an FIR in connection with alleged irregularities in ICICI Bank and Videocon dealings.

According to the CBI, Dhoot allegedly invested crores in NuPower months after the Videocon Group received Rs 1,875 crore as loans.

In its FIR, the CBI alleged that Chanda Kochhar “dishonestly” granted loans to the Videocon Group “in contravention of rules and policy… by abusing her official position”.

It also alleged that Chanda Kochhar accepted “illegal gratification through her husband” Deepak Kochhar, in whose company Videocon Group made investments after it was granted loans by the ICICI Bank.

Following the CBI’s case, the ED took up a parallel investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to see if kickbacks made through the loan deal were laundered to purchase assets.

Several raids were carried out at multiple locations, including the offices of Videocon Group in Mumbai and Aurangabad, the offices of NRPL, and Supreme Energy after the case was registered.

In June this year, the ED attached assets worth Rs 78.15 crore belonging to the Kochhars. These included residential flats, land, cash and plant and machinery located in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

The ED also claimed that Chanda Kochhar and her family acquired an apartment in Mumbai, which is owned by one of the Videocon Group companies.

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