Weeks after constituting an independent probe, ICICI Bank Chairman MK Sharma has now sought board members' views on whether MD & CEO Chanda Kochhar should be asked to go on indefinite leave until the enquiry is over. According to a report in Business Standard, the Chairman last week sent an email to board members asking whether they agreed that Kochhar should go on indefinite leave until the ICICI Bank-constituted probe is completed.
ICICI Bank recently roped in former Supreme Court Judge B N Srikrishna to probe the allegations of quid pro quo and conflict of interest levelled against Chanda Kochhar by whistleblower Arvind Gupta. The whistleblower has alleged that Kochhar had not adhered to provisions relating to code of conduct of the bank while dealing with certain customers. The ICICI Bank CEO is currently on a planned leave.
According to the BS report, some of the board members are of the view that Kochhar should resume office after her leave so as to not cause any uncertainty among shareholders. "Since the events are already recorded and possibly cannot be altered, requesting Kochhar to proceed on leave at this point in time may send the wrong signal to stakeholders, especially after the board had showed full confidence and faith in her when the issue first broke out," the report quoted one of the board members as saying.
The whole controversy began after whistleblower Arvind Gupta wrote to the Prime Minister and investigating agencies red-flagging 'impropriety' in certain transactions which involves Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar. Gupta has so far written two letters to the Prime Minister.
In the first letter, Gupta alleged quid pro quo in ICICI Bank's Rs 3,250 crore plus Rs 660 crore loans to Venugopal Dhoot-owned Videocon Industries. He alleged that around same time an identical 10 per cent foreign funding (Rs 325 crore and Rs 66 crore) made its way to NuPower Renewables- a company co-founded by Chanda Kochhar's husband Deepak Kochhar. ICICI Bank Board denied the charges and backed Chanda Kochhar.
Gupta shot another letter in May. In the second letter, he levelled fresh allegations of quid pro quo and conflict of interest on Chanda Kochhar. He claimed that the ICICI Bank had favoured Ruia brothers of Essar group for 'round-tripping' investments into Chanda Kochhar's husband Deepak Kochhar's NuPower Group - the same firm involved in Videocon loan case. Following the second letter, ICICI Bank decided to constitute an independent probe to look into these charges.
In a statement issued last month, the bank said: "The scope of the enquiry would be comprehensive and would include all relevant matters arising out of and in the course of examination of the facts and, where ever warranted, the use of forensic or email reviews and recordal of statements of relevant personnel, etc."
The CBI and Income Tax have already started a preliminary investigation into Rs 3,250 crore loan ICICI Bank had extended to Videocon Group.