New Delhi: The arrest of former SBI chairman Pratip Chaudhuri on 31 October was a result of a “two-month-long warrant drive” that was started by the Rajasthan Police to execute all pending warrants and make arrests, sources in the police told ThePrint.
The first non-bailable warrant was issued against Chaudhuri in February 2020, following which two more warrants were issued, but the arrest was made more than a year-and-a-half later on 31 October 2021.
Moreover, the police admitted that Chaudhuri, arrested in a 2015 case of fraud, was not questioned in the case “even once” and that they had filed a closure report in the case based on the “documents provided to them by the managers of the bank at that time”.
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior police officer said that the arrest was a part of a “routine drive” and that many warrants had been pending because of the Covid situation.
“These warrant drives keep happening to clear pending warrants and make arrests. The headquarters gives directions saying that two months should be used to clear all pending warrants,” the officer said.
“So, in July-August, we cleared most pending warrants and among that was the one issued against Pratip Chaudhuri. A total of 109 warrants were executed.”
Explaining why Chaudhuri was never called for questioning in the case, the officer said, “When the FIR against Chaudhuri was filed, he was not the chairman of SBI. The conflict of interest rose when he joined the Asset Reconstruction Company, Alchemist. At that time the investigators called the managers of the bank and based on the documents collected, reached the conclusion that it was a civil matter. We then filed a closure report.
“Now, when the court took cognisance of the protest petition filed by the complainant, it ordered us to arrest the accused,” the officer added.
“Our job only is to arrest the accused and make him appear in court. It does not matter if he was questioned in the case by us or not. Because our findings too were kept before the court and in his case, the closure report was rejected.”
The case in which Chaudhuri was arrested stems from a loan of Rs 24 crore that the SBI had sanctioned for a project of the Gaudavan Group — Garh Rajwada — at Jaisalmer in 2007. The project, however, was not completed and the company allegedly defaulted on the loan. The properties were then given to an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC) following a bid.
The borrower, Harendra Singh Rathore, lodged a complaint against Chaudhuri saying that he “connived” with the ARC, named Alchemist Asset Reconstruction, and “violated Reserve Bank of India guidelines” to first wrongly declare the loan a non-performing asset (NPA), and then for selling the company’s properties worth Rs 200 crore for Rs 25 crore.
Rathore had also pointed out that Chaudhuri, who retired as SBI chairman after a two-year term in September 2013, joined the board of Alchemist Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC) in October 2014, which he claimed was a case of “conflict of interest”.
An FIR in the matter was lodged in 2015 but the police had filed a closure report in 2016 saying it was a “civil matter” and “no criminality was found against Pradip Chaudhri”. The case was reopened after a protest petition was filed against the Rajasthan Police by the complainant and a non-bailable warrant was issued against Chaudhuri by a Jaisalmer court in February 2020.
Chaudhuri was granted bail Tuesday by the Jodhpur bench of Rajasthan High Court, which stayed the Jaisalmer court’s February 2020 order.
‘Caught off guard’
Speaking to ThePrint, Chaudhuri’s lawyer Vipin Vyas said that he was “caught off guard” and that the arrest was a complete “misuse of judicial process”.
“He (Chaudhuri) did not even know that all this was happening. The court ordered an NBW against him without even sending him a single summon or any notice. This is a complete misuse of law,” Vyas said.
“Before a court issues a NBW, summons are sent to the person concerned. If he had known that this process was on, won’t he apply for anticipatory bail? We found out about this much later.”
The complainant in the case, Harendra Singh Rathore, however, told ThePrint that Chaudhuri was well aware of the proceedings and had challenged the February 2020 order in a Jodhpur court in May 2021.
“They had challenged the February 2020 order in May 2021, after they found out about it,” Rathore said. “So, technically they cannot say that they did not know what was happening. Moreover, if the court decided to straightaway issue a NBW against Chaudhuri, it must have seen merit in our case. The court must have thought that Chaudhuri may flee if he is not arrested.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)