Chanda Kochhar, chief executive officer and managing director of ICICI Bank Ltd.(Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)

Whistle-Blower Levels Fresh Allegations Of Quid Pro Quo Against Chanda Kochhar

Levelling fresh allegations of quid pro quo deals by the ICICI Bank Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Chanda Kochhar, the independent activist and whistle-blower Arvind Gupta has alleged that Ruia brothers of Essar group got undue favours from the bank for "round-tripping" investments into her spouse Deepak Kochhar's NuPower Group.

The Ruias funded the NuPower and its subsidiary through their son-in-law Nishant Kanodia and nephew Anirudh Bhuwalka during December 2010 to March 2012 by subscribing to compulsorily convertible preference shares and equity shares, Gupta has alleged in his fresh letter dated May 11, 2018, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Almost two years back (March 2016), he had written a letter to the prime minister alleging dirty dealings between the bank, through Chanda Kochhar, and the Videocon Group to benefit her family.

Citing data accessed from the Registrar of Companies (RoC) filings by NuPower Renewables, Gupta's letter reveals that Nishant Kanodia (husband of Ravi Ruia's daughter Smiti Ruia) invested in NuPower via Firstland Holdings, Mauritius -the holding company of Matix Group (co-promoted by Kanodia).

Also read: ICICI Bank Says CEO Chanda Kochhar Is On Annual Leave

Firstland Holdings, Mauritius subscribed to a total of 3,243,752 shares of Rs 1,000 each of NuPower Renewable Ltd between December 31, 2010, to March 21, 2012, in four different tranches amounting to Rs 324.37 crore, as per the RoC filings by NuPower.

Anirudh Bhuwalka, the nephew of Shashi Ruia, owned A-One Motors & Services Ltd. acquired NuPower Technologies through AMW Motors Ltd which is owned and controlled by Asia Motor Works Holdings Ltd -- eventually controlled by the Essar Group, the letter writes.

"Essar Group has round-tripped investment payments to NuPower group via Firstland Holdings, Mauritius and had handsomely rewarded Deepak Kochhar...The Matix Group front ended the Firstland Holdings, Mauritius for investing Rs 325 core in the NuPower Group -- the group owned by the husband of Chanda Kochhar.

Evidently, the malice of quid pro quo extends to another crony capitalist - the Ruia brothers of the Essar Group now headquartered in Mauritius -- the safe haven and a safe passage for global money laundering," Gupta said.

Also read: A Timeline Of What Led To The Probe Against Chanda Kochhar

These dealings happened during the period when Essar Group got sweetheart deals from ICICI Bank's overseas branches in Singapore, the UK and New York to acquire Essar Steel Minnesota (U.S.) and Algoma Steel (Canada), the letter alleged.

The lender through a consortium as a lead banker lent $530 million to Essar Steel in 2010, to Essar Oil $350 million to acquire Stanlow refinery in the UK, it said.

"All these investments by the Essar Group turned bad and have faced liquidation and bankruptcy proceedings for recovery of the investments," Gupta said in his letter.

Further, he has alleged that Essar Capital Holdings, Mauritius compensated the Matix Group for funding NuPower Renewable group by subscribing to the equity offering by the Matix Fertilisers and Chemicals during December 2010 to August 2011 by buying 163,540,343 shares of Rs 10 each for Rs 163.53 crore.

When asked for comments on the whistle-blower's letter, ICICI Bank said: Typically, we do not respond to client-specific queries...With regards to Essar Steel Minnesota, we would like to inform you that a consortium of seven Indian banks including ICICI Bank had sanctioned loans to the entity. Also, large U.S. funds gave loans to the company. Out of the total debt of the company of $1.02 billion, ICICI Bank's share was less than 25 percent."

It also said that the figure of $530 million loan was "grossly overstated".

"Due to various factors, the loan facilities provided to this project were classified as non-performing by all lenders. The resolution process pursuant to the same is under process. Further, we would like to state that while sanctioning this loan, all the internal processes of credit risk rating, credit appraisal and credit approval were duly followed within the bank. Hence, it will be totally inappropriate and misleading to attribute any wrong motives to ICICI Bank for these loans."

An Essar group spokesperson said, "A letter by one Arvind Gupta has made certain libelous accusations against Essar. We strongly condemn these allegations, which are clearly motivated. Essar does not have any business interest in Firstland Holdings Ltd."

"Moreover, as we understand, AMW Motors Limited Mumbai has not made the investment of Rs 197 crore in Nupower, contrary to the claims made in the letter. Essar has been dealing with ICICI since 1980. All transactions with them have been made in a very open and transparent manner, and in accordance with all applicable laws of the land," it added.

While Matix Group said it categorically and unequivocally refutes the allegations made in the letter purportedly written by one Arvind Gupta.

"The letter makes claims that are completely false and baseless and seem to be driven by a vested interest and an ulterior motive. Essar does not have any business interest in Firstland Holdings, contrary to what is being alleged. Firstland Holdings' investment in Nupower was made on merit to participate in the renewable energy sector and has since been divested. No loans were ever taken by Matix from ICICI Bank," Matix said in a statement.

Embattling crisis at the top-level, ICICI Bank earlier this week said its board has decided to launch an independent enquiry into allegations of 'conflict of interest' and 'quid pro quo' in Kochhar's dealing with certain borrowers. The matter relates to allegations of involvement of Kochhar and her family members in a loan provided to Videocon group on a quid pro quo basis.

Earlier today, the bank came with a clarification that Kochhar has not been sent on leave and is out of office due to her planned annual leaves.

Not to mention, the board of the bank in earlier in March-end this year had fully backed the bank CMD denying any wrongdoing on her part. The Reserve Bank in its 2016 investigation into the matter had raised questions over the ownership of the Mauritius-based entity, First Land Holding, which had invested Rs 325 crore in NuPower.

Also read: Chanda Kochhar: CEO, ICICI Bank (2009-?)