ICICI Bank Ltd. will conduct an independent probe into an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint against its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Chanda Kochhar, who has faced allegations of impropriety over loans to the Videocon Group.
The board’s audit committee will appoint an independent and credible outsider to head the investigation, according to an exchange filing . The committee will also provide necessary independent legal and professional support to the head of the investigation.
The complaint is in addition to a 2016 letter by investor Arvind Gupta, who had alleged that loans to the Videocon Group pointed to Kochhar’s conflict of interest since the appliance maker’s promoter Venugopal Dhoot had business dealings with her husband.
Here’s a timeline of events of what happened at ICICI Bank before it decided to initiate a probe:
October 2016: Investor’s Letter
Gupta, an investor in both ICICI Bank and Videocon Group, in an October 2016 blog posted a letter he had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, listing some issues in the way the bank had conducted itself. The letter, originally written in March 2016, alleged that Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar had business relations with Dhoot, which could lead to a potential conflict of interest. ICICI Bank had approved a Rs 3,250 crore loan to Videocon Group as part of a consortium.
At the time, neither did ICICI Bank respond to the letter nor it did it conduct any public investigation.
The Reserve Bank of India probed the matter after the letter became public but didn’t find anything material against ICICI Bank’s management. The regulator then sent the matter to the Finance Ministry with a note saying that further investigations were needed.
March 2018: Social Media Buzz Around The Letter
Two years after the letter became public, there was a buzz on social media about a potential investigation against the head of two large private sector banks. News reports quoting unnamed government officials also started saying as much. While reports didn’t name the heads of the private sector banks, Kochhar was widely believed to be one of the two.
On March 28, the bank’s board released a statement to stock exchanges saying it didn’t find any issues with the way Kochhar had conducted herself in the Videocon Group case. The statement pointed out that the decision to lend to Videocon Group was taken at the consortium level. Even though Kochhar was part of the lending committee that approved the loan, she did not have any personal stake in it, the board’s statement said, fully backing the MD and CEO.
On March 29, the Indian Express reported details of many suspicious financial transactions between Deepak Kochhar’s NuPower Renewables Pvt Ltd. and many of Dhoot’s companies.
The same evening, ICICI Bank Chairman MK Sharma spoke to the press reiterating that the board didn’t find any impropriety on Kochhar’s or the lender’s part. Sharma said the bank had “satisfactorily replied to all regulatory questions”. That such communication was part of regular activity and also privileged information. He said the bank will not share any specific details regarding communication with regulators.
On March 31, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed an initial enquiry, which is typically a precursor to a full-fledged investigation. The investigative agency later also questioned Deepak Kochhar and his brother Rajiv Kochhar.
May 2018: Board Meet Didn’t Discuss Kochhar’s Fate
The ICICI Bank board met on May 7 to discuss the January-March quarter results. The expectation was that the government nominee, Lok Ranjan, would bring up the Videocon Group issue during the meet, be he didn’t attend the meeting.
The board also didn’t discuss the issue, Kochhar said in an interaction with the media after the results were announced. During the interaction, Kochhar said the board had already clarified what it had to and that she had nothing more to add. “Bank has supported all investigative authorities and co-operated with them in the past. ICICI Bank will continue to do so,” Kochhar told the press.
Later, it was reported that the Securities and Exchanges Bureau of India had sent a letter seeking clarification from the MD and CEO and also from the bank. The bank, in a May 25 statement to exchanges, confirmed that she had received a show-cause notice from the markets regulator for non-adherence to listing norms. The notice, the lender said, was based on information furnished by the bank and its officials in the Videocon Group loan case.
Today, the board announced that it will institute an independent probe.