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ICICI, Only Skeletons

As time goes by, more and more dirt is spilling out in the open, in the Chanda Kochhar-ICICI Bank saga. It is a scam that the then all powerful CEO of ICICI had suppressed in 2016, when RBI did conduct an enquiry on the allegations against her, but initiated no further action. She was in the prime of her power and had the unanimous support of her board of directors, who eagerly gave her a clean chit. But the determined whistleblower refused to be put down by her and filed a fresh compliant making direct incriminating allegations against her, of conflict of interest and quid pro quo benefits in loans given by ICICI to the Videocon group. It was directly alleged that Chanda Kochhar’s husband, Deepak Kochhar’s company had received sizeable investments from the Videocon group, inconsideration of loans given by ICICI Bank.

These allegations in the fresh whistleblower complaint were too serious and damning and a number of probe agencies, which should have got active in this case in 2016 itself, ie. SEBI/CBI/ITD/ED, got active. Yet without even waiting for the probe by the multiple agencies to conclude, the Board of Directors of ICICI Bank, for some strange reason, gave an unconditionally clean chit to her again and reposed their faith in Chanda Kochhar. It reminded one of the late Jayalalitha and her cabinet of yesmen ministers.

Despite this hurried clean chit to Chanda Kochhar by the ICICI Board, the whistleblower persisted with his complaints and filed yet another one, with more damaging details. He alleged that apart from violating the corporate code of conduct, the ICICI CEO had deliberately window dressed its books of accounts. He said that NPAs were concealed and the profits of the bank were overstated to the tune of Rs.10000 crores. It resulted in a damaging dent in the Chanda Kochhar citadel, which was now cracking. SEBI issued a prosecution notice, to Chanda Kochhar personally,  for charges of violating its regulations, foreign investors started exiting the ICICI scrip, she went on an indefinite leave and Justice B N Srikrishna, was appointed to conduct a full enquiry against her. It was shockingly even revealed that ICICI Bank had a software to window dress and manipulate its books of accounts and financial results.

This window dressing of accounts by ICICI Bank has now occupied centre stage, and is under investigation. The overstating of profits by Rs.10000 crores and understating bad loans to the tune of USD 3 bn is under investigation. Over a 1000 loan cases are under scrutiny and the entire bunch of papers, starting from loan sanction documents to the loan default are being probed. Even the RBI which started investigating 30 big ticket loan accounts afresh has expanded its scrutiny to 55 accounts. As time goes by, while the earlier allegations remain unresolved and become more damning, more and more skeletons are spilling out in the open. It is clear that in her prime, she was the unquestioned empress of ICICI Bank, with a bunch of swooning yes men as the directors.        

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