ICICI Bank today said it will conduct an independent enquiry into an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint about alleged impropriety by its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Chanda Kochhar.
The enquiry will be conducted by an “independent and credible” person appointed by the bank, the private lender said in a notification to the stock exchanges. “The scope of enquiry would be comprehensive and include all relevant matters arising out of and in the course of examination of the facts and wherever warranted, use of forensics/email reviews and recordal of statements of relevant personnel etc,” the notification read.
The bank’s board mandated its audit committee to appoint the head of enquiry, determine its terms of reference and period covered. The committee will also help the head of enquiry with the required independent legal and other professional support.
The whistleblower complaint is in addition to a 2016 letter by investor Arvind Gupta, who had alleged that loans to Videocon Group pointed to Kochhar’s conflict of interest. The private lender had given loans worth Rs 3,250 crore to the maker of appliances, whose chairman Venugopal Dhoot co-founded a separate company NuPower Renewables with Deepak Kocchar, Chanda Kochhar’s spouse. There was some possible quid pro quo in the grant of loans, the 2016 letter had alleged. A large part of those loans have now turned sour.
The board’s intention is honourable but timing of the enquiry “is a little odd”, said former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board Chairman M Damodaran, adding that it should have ideally come when the SEBI notice was issued. “I don’t want to second guess on what the board considered and what was decided. My preferred option would have been that the CEO steps down for a couple of months while the enquiry is going on and then take a call thereafter.”
The test issue would be who are the persons on the enquiry committee or the person heading the committee, according to former Banking Secretary DK Mittal. “This will be a test of the credibility of the team members also if they don’t do it properly. I still maintain that till any guilt is proved it is not fair to make anybody as a proven criminal.”
Earlier this year, the bank’s board had stated that it didn’t find anything wrong with the way Kochhar conducted herself. While she had been part of the committee which approved the loans to the Videocon Group, the loan itself was sanctioned by a consortium which included other banks, it said. The Economic Times had reported that MK Sharma, chairman of ICICI Bank, also conducted an investigation but found no problems with the bank’s decision to fund the Videocon Group.