Apparently stung by high profile flight from the country of several economic offenders, premier crime investigative agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has issued a lookout circular (LOC) against top banker Chanda Kochhar, who is being probed over alleged fraud during her tenure as the chief executive officer and managing director of ICICI Bank.
Apart from Chanda Kochhar, the lookout notices also include her husband Deepak Kochhar, and Videocon Group's Venugopal Dhoot. The development comes weeks after Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a criminal case against them for alleged money laundering, according to media reports.
The CBI and the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had taken opposition flak over the flight aboard of several top businessmen including liquor baron Vijay Mallya and diamond merchants Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi. Facing the general election in a matter of weeks, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government can ill-afford to face another embarrassing flight in a high profile economic offence investigation.
The CBI last year issued lookout circulars at all airports against Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot last year. The Economics Times reports this is the first time LOC has been issued against Chanda Kochhar.
"LOCs were filed after the FIR and are mandatory in cases where such economic offences are alleged. In recent times, keeping an eye on travel plans is a top concern for regulators," the newspaper quoted an official as saying.
ED registered a criminal case for alleged money laundering against the Kochhars, Dhoot, and others, to probe alleged irregularities and corrupt practices in sanctioning a Rs 1,875-crore loan to the corporate group.
ED filed an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, taking into account a CBI complaint filed last month. An ECIR is the ED's equivalent of a police first information report (FIR).
The agency is probing the possibility of amassing tainted assets from any kickbacks the loan deal might have generated. The ED is expected to summon the accused named in the ECIR soon, according to reports.
Allegations of conflict of interest against the CEO first arose in October 2016 following the ICICI Bank's sanctioning of a loan to the Videocon Group. The allegation was that though Kochhar's husband had alleged beneficial business dealings with Videocon managing director Venugopal Dhoot, yet the bank CEO continued to function on the credit committee that sanctioned the loan in 2012.
An ICICI Bank inquiry found that Kochhar violated the bank's code of conduct and its board decided to treat her October resignation – tendered while she was on leave – as a termination. Kochhar said she was "utterly disappointed, hurt and shocked" by the decision.