Videocon Group chairman Venugopal Dhoot has denied any dealings with Deepak Kochhar, the husband of ICICI Bank MD and CEO Chanda Kochhar, beyond investing Rs 2.5 lakh in Deepak's renewable energy business.
He termed reports of subsequent events, including loaning Rs 64 crore to Nupower Renewables through one of his companies, or subsequent transactions which resulted in Deepak Kochhar gaining full ownership of the company, as baseless.
These reports have led to allegations of possible conflict of interest and quid pro quo against Chanda Kochhar.
"Our transaction is very clear and I have not done anything wrong, and will not do anything wrong...We have not invested any money in any company floated by Deepak Kochhar. We invested Rs 2.5 lakh, pulled it out and now there is no relation between us," Dhoot said in an interview aired today on Marathi channel ABP Majha.
The Videocon Group chairman said Deepak sought investment in his venture, Nupower Renewables, over a decade ago. Dhoot further said he agreed as Deepak was seeking only Rs 2.5 lakh and was an "old acquaintance".
The ICICI Bank was headed by K V Kamath at that time, Dhoot said, claiming that he did not know if Chanda Kochhar was associated with the bank then.
Dhoot said he regularly invests small amounts in start-ups, but decided to exit this investment as Videocon discovered oil reserves which was not aligned with the business of Nupower, and returned his 50 per cent stake to Deepak Kochhar.
Dhoot said he had got to know Deepak Kochhar through his friend and IAS officer, former Maharashtra chief secretary Sharad Upasani. He had no contact with either Deepak Kochhar or Chanda Kochhar after the return of the stake, he said.
Asked about the alleged Rs 64 crore loan given to Nupower by Supreme Energy which is 99.99 per cent owned by him, Dhoot initially claimed Videocon does not have any such entity, but then conceded that the Group may have invested "a lakh or two" in some company, but claimed he does not exactly remember.
According to media reports, Supreme Energy loaned the money to Nupower in March 2010 through fully convertible debentures, a year after Dhoot divested his stake in Nupower.
Supreme Energy became 94.99 per cent owner of Nupower after this, with Deepak Kochhar retaining the remaining stake. The same year in November, Dhoot is alleged to have transferred his entire stake in Supreme to his business associate Mahesh Punglia.
In the interview, Dhoot said Punglia is a "big consultant" who keeps meeting people, and he (Punglia) may have "lent" his name to some venture.
He rejected any association with Supreme Energy, and added that a search of Registrar of Companies' records can reveal a 1,000 companies of the same name.
To a specific question on Chanda Kochhar's conduct, Dhoot said there was "nothing illegal". She was only one of the 12 members of the committee which cleared the loan (of Rs 3,250 crore) to Videocon Group, he said, claiming that he knew all 12 members, and Kamath, the head of the committee, used to have lunch with him.
Personal ties between two people do not always result in criminal acts, Dhoot said.
When asked about the preliminary enquiry started by the CBI in this matter, Dhoot said the agency probes every allegation made to it, including "bogus complaints".
ICICI Bank had loaned USD 100 million through its Canadian subsidiary to Videocon, which was repaid in full with interest, Dhoot said, and added that there were enquiries by the Enforcement Directorate in the matter, but it did not find any wrongdoing under the foreign exchange management laws.
"It is a circle of time where people face a difficult time. It is like the agni-parisksha (litmus test) gone through by Sita and I am sure I will pass it this time," Dhoot, who is known to have a keen interest in mythology, said.
He said the diversified Videocon Group, which owes nearly Rs 40,000 crore which have slipped into an NPA, is also facing similar testing times, and hinted that it has asked banks for a "push" in the form of fresh loans, after which it can come out of the crisis in two-three months.
Dhoot said the company has serviced its debt obligations for over 32 years till it slipped into an NPA and assured to work towards making the loans performing again.
In a season where many a defaulter have fled the country, Dhoot said his passport has "expired" and he has not stepped out of the country for seven years now.
The CBI has questioned a few ICICI bank officials as part of a preliminary enquiry to find if any quid pro quo was involved in the bank issuing the Rs 3,250-crore loan to the Videocon Group in 2012.
The PE has named Videocon group promoter Venugopal Dhoot, Deepak Kochhar and unknown others, CBI sources said.
Earlier this week, the ICICI Bank board came out in support of Chanda Kochhar, saying it has full faith and confidence in her and described reports against her regarding credit disbursement to Videocon group as "malicious and unfounded rumours".
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