CBI arrests Videocon’s Venugopal Dhoot


Dhoot is accused of investing in a company owned by the husband of Chanda Kochhar, the then-managing director and chief executive of ICICI Bank, to obtain loans from the bank. Kochhar and her husband, Deepak, were arrested by the CBI on Friday and interrogated over the weekend.

The agency arrested Dhoot, 71, under charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy based on evidence that he made a series of transactions with a Deepak Kochhar-owned company to secure loans from ICICI Bank, a CBI officer said.

He has been questioned multiple times over the last four years.

CBI has alleged that a loan-sanctioning committee headed by Chanda Kochhar, on 26 August 2009, sanctioned a loan of 300 crore to Videocon International Electronics Ltd (VIEL) in contravention of the bank’s rules and policies in criminal conspiracy with the co-accused by abusing her position as a public servant.

“The loan was disbursed on 7 September 2009, and on the very next date—8 September 2009, Dhoot transferred 64 crore to M/s NRL (a company managed by Deepak Kochhar) from Videocon Industries Ltd through his company, Supreme Energy Pvt. Ltd,” CBI stated.

CBI has further claimed that between June 2009 and October 2011, ICICI Bank, under Kochhar, sanctioned loans of 1,875 crore to six companies of Videocon Group for the purpose of enabling them to repay the unsecured loan availed by these companies from Videocon.

“All these loans were sanctioned after Chanda Kochhar took over the charge of ICICI Bank as managing director and chief executive officer. Out of the six loans, Chanda Kochhar was one of the committee members in two loans,” it said last week.

The agency has also claimed that as part of another quid pro quo, Chanda Kochhar “was residing in a flat without consideration during the period she dealt with loan proposal of Videocon Group and sanctioned/recommended for sanction as a member of the committee.”

“The flat was under litigation for possession between Videocon Industries Ltd and Deepak Kochhar. Subsequently, the flat (valued at 5.25 crore in 1996) was transferred to Quality Advisor, a family trust of Deepak Kochhar, at a meagre amount of 11 lakh in 2016,” CBI added.

Chanda Kochhar stepped down from ICICI Bank in October 2018 after allegations of irregularities surfaced against her.

In its heydays, the Videocon Group operated across consumer electricals and home appliances and owned stakes in oil and gas blocks in India, Mozambique and Brazil. The group also had investments in real estate.

Videocon made his initial fortune by making black and white and later colour television sets for India’s middle class in an alliance with Toshiba.

Dhoot partnered with Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd to acquire exploration blocks in Mozambique and Brazil. However, the growth led to a build-up of debt, and Videocon Industries landed in bankruptcy court.

Following Kochhars’ arrest, CBI informed a Mumbai court on Saturday that “Chanda Kochhar has not cooperated in the investigation by giving vague replies”.

“During the investigation, Chanda Kochhar has denied her knowledge about these pecuniary transactions between her husband and V.N. Dhoot and has not disclosed true and full facts pertaining to the allegations in the first information report (filed in January 2019),” said the intelligence agency in its remand paper submitted in Mumbai court.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), too, has investigated the matter under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and filed a charge sheet in November 2020, alleging that the Kochhars and Dhoot used a web of companies to launder money received as a bribe.

Sandeep Ladda, the lawyer for Dhoot, said he would approach the court challenging the arrest. “The notice served was under section 41A of CrPC, which has a provision that the accused need not be arrested. So CBI breached its own notice, and so we’ll approach the appropriate court challenging the non-application of mind by CBI,” said Ladda. Considering Dhoot’s cooperation, Ladda said ED never arrested Dhoot, and the PMLA court also released him on bail.

Deepak Kochhar was arrested by ED in September 2020 before he was granted bail in March 2021.

The ED said it is investigating 24 loans aggregating 7,862 crore that it believes ICICI Bank loaned “illegally and criminally” to the Videocon Group when Chanda Kochhar was in charge of the bank between 2009 and 2018.

The trouble for Videocon Group started with its entry into the wireless telephony business in 2008, with the acquisition of 2G licences.

The group borrowed heavily from local banks against the spectrum as collateral to support its telecom company.

The blow came in 2012 when the Supreme Court cancelled all telecom licences granted by the government, saying the Centre should have auctioned the licences and spectrum instead of granting them on a first-come-first-served basis.

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