The cozy Kochhar-Videocon deal smacks of absolute cronyism, more so because Chanda was on the credit committee, which cleared the loan, instead of maintaining an arm’s length, which makes it even more questionable. What about firewalls and other governance issues that this raised? Or they don’t apply to private banks and their CEOs? Are they then a law onto themselves? Shouldn’t she have recused herself, like judges do these days, isn’t there a clear conflict of interest? And what was RBI doing, was it asleep on the wheel?
She was on the credit committee that sanctioned a loan of Rs 3,250 crore to the Videocon Group in 2012 and she chose to be blase about it till the full force of probe agencies was unleashed against her. And Rs 3250 crore isn’t exactly small potatoes. Then ICICI chairman M.K. Sharma added to the mystery: “The board does not see this as a conflict of interest in any manner since Videocon group is not an investor in NuPower Renewables, as there was no need to recuse herself from this committee. This committee had many independent directors and the committee was not chaired by her…
“We have satisfactorily replied to the questions of all the regulators which is an ongoing process within a regulated entity like a bank and the regulators and the other government departments. However, this is privileged information between the regulators and the bank and it would be totally inappropriate for me to go public with them.”
In what can only be described as the mom and pop shop cult, In 2001, a total of seven members of the Kochhar family including brothers Deepak and Rajiv Kochhar, their father Virendra Kochhar, Chanda’s brother Mahesh and his wife Neelam together held 2% in Credential Finance, along with Videocon group that held 17.74%. Chanda Kochhar and six members of the Kochhar family held shares in a little-known firm called Credential Finance Ltd, along with Videocon group, at least as far back as 2001, regulatory filings show.
Three of the Kochhars were also directors on the company’s board in 1995, when it was founded, though it’s not clear if Videocon held a stake in the company at that time.
A total of seven members of the Kochhar family-including Chanda Kochhar, her husband Deepak Kochhar and his brother Rajiv Kochhar-together held a 2% stake in Credential Finance, its shareholding pattern for that year (2001) filed with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) in 2007 showed.
In the same year (2001), Venugopal Dhoot’s Videocon International Ltd held 17.74% and its associate firm Joy Holdings held 0.8% in Credential Finance. Another major shareholder was Mahesh Chandra Punglia, holding 0.8%.
Chanda Kochhar was elevated as ICICI Bank Ltd’s chief executive officer in 2009. She sold or transferred her shares in Credential Finance before 2010, as records during 2010 to 2014 do not show her holding any shares in the firm. The other six Kochhars continued to hold their shares at least until 2013-14.
The company has no clear promoter, as all its 90 shareholders hold less than 5% in the company. Founded in 1995 as Bloom Field Builders and Construction Co. Ltd, the company changed its name to Credential Finance in the mid-90s, according to RoC documents. Credential Finance’s directors since 1995 included Deepak Kochhar as managing director, besides Rajiv Kochhar and sister-in-law of Chanda Kochhar – Neelam Mahesh Advani.
While all this much was being raked, Chanda Kochhar behaved as if nothing had happened. ICICI tried to paper over the obvious cracks which had begun to resemble fault lines. Did this amount to Pontius Pilate (was the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from AD 26 to 36. He is best known today for the trial and crucifixion of Jesus) washing his hands of the grievous crime.
In January 2009 just after buying a stake in NuPower, Dhoot transferred his shares to Deepak Kochhar for Rs 2.5 lakh and resigned as director. But the association with the Dhoot family did not end there.
In March 2010, NuPower got a loan of Rs 64 crore by a company named Supreme Energy, entirely owned by Mr Dhoot. At the end of the same month, Supreme Energy became a 94.99 per cent shareholder in NuPower. The remaining shares were held by Mr Kochhar.
(The story was originally published in IANS on May 16, 2019)