Arun Jaitley, who is currently undergoing treatment for soft tissue cancer in the US, is facing flak for allegedly throwing his weight behind former ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, who’s being probed for criminal act in the Rs 3,250 crore scam. Kochhar was named in the CBI FIR along with her husband Deepak Kochhar and the promoter of the Videocon Group last week.
Writing in a Facebook blog, Jaitley slammed the CBI for taking punitive action against the Kochhars and other prominent names from the financial world. He wrote, “There is a fundamental difference between investigative adventurism and professional investigation. Investigative adventurism involves casting the net too wide including people with no mens rea or even having a common intention to commit an offence, relying on presumptions and surmises with no legally admissible evidence. Adventurism leads to media leaks, ruins reputations and eventually invites strictures and not convictions. In the process, the targets are ruined because of harassment, loss of reputation and financial costs. It costs people their career.”
He went on to blame the investigating agency for its ‘adventurism’ in targeting a group of seemingly innocent individuals. He even linked it to the poor conviction rates in such crimes in India.
Jaitley wrote, “Professional investigation targets the real accused on the basis of actual and admissible evidences. It rules out fanciful presumptions. There is no personal malice or corruption. It targets the guilty and protects the innocent. It secures convictions and furthers public interest.
“One of the reasons why our conviction rates are poor is that adventurism and megalomania overtakes our investigators and professionalism takes a back seat.
Sitting thousands of kilometers away, when I read the list of potential targets in the ICICI case, the thought that crossed my mind was again the same – Instead of focusing primarily on the target, is a journey to nowhere (or everywhere) being undertaken? If we include the entire who’s who of the Banking Industry – with or without evidence – what cause are we serving or actually hurting.”
He concluded his blog with an advice for the CBI by saying, “my advice to our investigators – Follow the advice of Arjun in the Mahabharat – Just concentrate on the bulls eye.”
No sooner had his blog been made public, the powerful colleague of Prime Minister Narendra Modi began to face public criticism with question being raised on his motive behind defending Kochhar, who’s been accused of facilitating a financial scam to the tune of Rs 3,250 crore.
Jaitley’s link to Rs 3,250 crore scam
Since people have short memory in India, it’s worth casting our minds back to last year when the Rs 3,250 crore scam was first brought to light by a whistle-blower Arvind Gupta.
In his complaint Gupta had demanded an appropriate investigation into ‘illicit banking and commercial relationship between Videocon Group of Venugopal Dhoot and the then ICICI Bank’s MD & CEO Chanda Kochhar’s family owned NuPower Renewable Group steered by her husband Deepak Kochhar.’ Gupta had accused accused Kochhars of ‘amassing wrongful personal gains by deceiving stakeholders, shareholders, public / private sector banks and Indian Regulatory Agencies for unjust and illegal enrichment through corrupt banking practices within India and tax heavens by a high level CBI/ED/SFIO/SEBI/the RBI team to ensure healthy private sector Banking.’ She was later forced to resign from her post as the MD and the CEO of ICICI.
Chanda Kochhar, a known friend of PM Modi, is alleged to have favoured Videocon Group in its lending practices. She was one of the first big corporate names to have lent her support to PM Modi’s pet scheme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, by making it mandatory for ICICI branches to actively take part in the campaign.
Chanda Kochhar was last year summoned by the anti-fraud agency, SFIO, in a bank fraud case related to over Rs 5,000 crore loan extended to diamond merchant Mehul Choksi.
You can read the full letter here. Gupta said that he had also informed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley about the scam. But neither PM Modi nor Jaitley had chosen to take appropriate actions against Kochhar until a section of media including Janta Ka Reporter published Gupta’s revelation in full.
Gupta said that he had repeatedly sent the letters to PM Modi and Jaitley but no one bothered to respond to his communication. Gupta’s exhaustive letter had exposed how Dhoot and Deepak Kochhar had set up a joint venture company called NuPower Renewables Private Limited in Mumbai. Dhoot is then alleged to have given a loan of Rs 64-crore to the newly formed company through a fully owned entity before he transferred the latter’s ownership to a trust headed by Deepak Kochhar for just Rs 9 lakh.
The transfer of ownership to Deepak Kochchar took place just six months after the Videocon Group was given a loan of Rs 3,250 crore from ICICI Bank, headed by Chanda Kochhar.
The latest episode of financial scandal will cause even more embarrassment to PM Modi and his government in the wake of its questionable role in the Rs 11,500 crore PNB scam.
Jaitley’s fierce defence of scam-tainted Kochhars and rebuke to his own government’s probe agency explains why he had chosen not to act imemdiately after the scam was brought to his notice by Gupta.