Kochhar and Dhoot Arrests: Setting the Stage for BJP’s 2024 Election Campaign?
On 23rd December, when ICICI Bank’s former chief executive officer (CEO) Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak were busy sending out invitations to their son’s nuptials, the central bureau of investigation (CBI) decided to arrest the couple on an issue that has been in the public domain since whistle-blower Arvind Gupta’s blog post in 2016. (Read: Chanda Kochhar, Her Husband Deepak Kochhar arrested in Videocon Loan Fraud).
This was exactly two days before a series of lavish parties were to begin, including a reception on 7th January in Mumbai, culminating in a grand destination wedding at Jaisalmer (Rajasthan). The five-star wedding was to be attended by India’s biggest industrialists and bankers. Some of them were to fly to Doha for another industrialist scion’s wedding before jetting on private aircraft to Rajasthan for the Kochhar family nuptials! Instead, the closing days of 2022 have sent shock waves through bankers and industrialists alike.
Right through the weekend, the question on everyone’s mind was: Why now, what is new? There seems to be only one obvious answer. The timing of the wedding and the lavish extravaganza planned could not have been more unfortunate. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which has been attracting record crowds, had just made a triumphant entry into Delhi. Addressing a massive gathering from the iconic Red Fort, Mr Gandhi had declared that the government belongs to “Adani-Ambani”. There would have been huge political embarrassment at the inevitable photos and videos of India’s rich and powerful—some with massive bank borrowings that they have not bothered to repay—grooving away at a lavish destination wedding with a discredited banker playing host. My sources confirm that the who’s who among India’s wealthiest industrialists, bankers and corporate honchos had confirmed their presence at several of the functions.
But that is not all. Just before the Parliament session was truncated last week, the minister of state for finance Dr Bhagwat Karad, in a written response to a question in Parliament, had said that banks had written off Rs10.09 lakh crore in bad loans in the past five years. What was worse, the amount recovered from defaulters in the same period (between 2018 and 2022) was just Rs1.32 lakh crore (Read: Here Is the List of Top-50 Wilful Bank Defaulters; Bad Debts of Rs10.09 Lakh Crore Written Off in Past 5 Years, Says Govt). In effect, while the government and its supporters aggressively claim that loan write-offs are technical and banks continue recovery proceedings against defaulters, the actual recovery by public sector banks (PSBs) is just around 13%.
Just as onlookers were wondering why the banker was arrested for a commission (to her husband) but not the beneficiary businessman, CBI arrested Venugopal Dhoot on 26th December. The founder of the Videocon group was once a powerful industrialist with friends cutting across political parties. The arrest gave another big jolt to business circles who had been led to believe that Mr Dhoot had enough clout and connections to avoid arrest. CBI could hardly allege fraud and illegal gratification in the sanction of a dubious loan, but let off the corporate borrower who was also a huge defaulter whose outstanding loans had touched Rs90,000 crore at one time.
As a reminder, the charge against Ms Kochhar was that her husband’s firm, Nupower Renewables, earned a commission of Rs64 crore for facilitating a loan of Rs3,250 crore from ICICI Bank to several companies of the Videocon group. Nupower Renewables was jointly owned by Deepak Kochhar and Supreme Energy, a Videocon group company. Subsequently, Videocon had, allegedly, sold its holding in Nupower to Mr Kochhar at a nominal price.
Meanwhile, the bad loans of Videocon have turned into another major embarrassment for the government. The total claims against Videocon group companies stood at Rs71,433 crore, with admitted claims of Rs64,838 crore under bankruptcy proceedings. At one stage, Mr Dhoot had even tried to stall the resolution process by offering to repay Rs31,000 crore over a 15-year period. This was, correctly, rejected by bankers.
What is worse, the only serious bid in the resolution process came from Twin Star Technologies of the Vedanta group, which offered to pay Rs2,962 crore for the group that is not only a haircut of 96% but way below the liquidation value of the group. The offer provoked the presiding officer of the national company law tribunal (NCLT), Mumbai, to remark that the bidder was paying ‘almost nothing’ and what operational creditors were being forced to accept was a ‘tonsure, or total shave’ rather than a haircut. (Read: Total Haircut of 95.85% to All the Creditors in Videocon Resolution Plan: Report). According to a media report in July 2021, this 96% does not include Videocon’s oil and gas assets which could fetch Rs15,000 crore. If true and pursued seriously, the recovery from the Videocon group, which had bagged very lucrative oil assets, may be higher. There is a curious silence all around about these assets.
For those who believe the government’s declaration that banks will pursue defaulters even after a loan write-off, here is a slice of reality. PSBs had accepted personal guarantees of over Rs11,500 crore from the Dhoot brothers but do not seem to have made any significant recovery from their personal assets.
With just over 16 months to the next general elections , these massive write-offs, where potential buyers are willing to pay barely 5% of the outstanding loans and less than half the liquidation value, are bound to embarrass the government if it fails to initiate stringent action. By way of comparison, it is important to note the fugitive industrialists Vijay Mallya (total outstanding Rs9,000 crore) and Nirav Modi (Rs13,000 crore) owed much less money to banks and significant amounts have been recovered through the sale of their Indian assets.
So was the timing of the CBI action politically motivated? The investigation agency is bound to deny such a charge; but, so far, there is no sign of any fresh findings from the search that preceded the arrest of Chanda and Deepak Kochhar. The arrest follows a first information report (FIR) filed by CBI in January 2019 alleging “forgery, cheating, using fake documents as genuine, hatching a criminal conspiracy” etc.
On the other hand, ICICI whistle-blower Arvind Gupta, trustee of Indian Investors Protection Council, said in a media interview that the three arrests are just the tip of the iceberg. With CBI having ratcheted up its action, Mr Gupta perhaps believes that his second letter to prime minister Narendra Modi in 2018 will also receive adequate attention. In the letter, he alleged that the Essar group had also funded Deepak Kochhar’s NuPower group to the tune of Rs325 crore, through the son-in-law of Ravi Ruia, to get loans and undue favours from the Bank.
The allegations have been widely reported by the mainstream media as well as Moneylife (Investor Protection Council alleges nexus between Kochhars and Essar group). The Essar group had vehemently denied the allegations, but the charges were never properly investigated, despite the publicity.
While the Ruias gave up Essar Steel and sold a few other businesses, several group companies continue to owe large sums to PSBs. For instance,  a clutch of banks, led by State Bank of India (SBI), had accepted a massive Rs13,000 crore personal guarantee from Prashant Ruia and Ravi Ruia for a barely known company called Essar Investments. On attempting to invoke the guarantee (through debt recovery tribunal, Ahmedabad), Ravi Ruia and Prashant Ruia had argued that they have hardly any individual assets to cover this guarantee making recovery a pipedream for the banks. Nothing further has been heard on that front. Interestingly, most of the Ruia family members have shifted base to Dubai. It must be recalled that the letter dates back to 2018 when ICICI Bank itself had denied any wrongdoing by Ms Kochhar. The Bank later ordered an investigation headed by justice BN Srikrishna whose indictment led to her termination.
The question that worries big corporate defaulters is whether the arrest of the Kochhars and Mr Dhoot is, indeed, the beginning of a crackdown on all those who continue to enjoy lavish lifestyles and unexplained funding, even while banks and the exchequer have taken a serious hit on their loans.
An image-conscious government would not like to be seen protecting corporate defaulters in the run up to the general elections, thus setting the stage for more action in 2023. Although such arrests may burnish PM Modi’s anti-corruption image, let’s not confuse such actions with actual reduction in daily corruption. In the 2014 campaign, Mr Modi had promised a corruption-free government. But, by all anecdotal accounts, corruption faced by the ordinary person has continued to increase steadily, despite substantially higher salaries paid to government employees at all levels.
1 year ago
As per my knowledge, the Videocon case is still pending in the Supreme Court. NCALT had ordered to call for fresh bids and this has been challenged by the Vedanta subsidiary who won the controversial bid. While this may be so, tremendous value destruction has already taken. How and why needs to be probed and criminal investigation should not be restricted only to the Kochar angle . Chanda Kochar and her husband are only a side story. The main script is how more than 95 percent value destruction has taken place. The personal assets of the promoters and other senior functionaries have been frozen. They should be disposed of without any delay.
Let me now turn to other issues stated in the article.

(1) “Banks do not want to go after recoveries from written off loans”:
Nothing could be far from truth. Remember, recovery from these accounts results in write back of provision as the amounts are backed by 100% provision. Thus every rupee recovered from written off accounts adds to the profit of a lender bank. Thus the reported amount of , Rs.1.3 lakh crore recovered from such accounts has already boosted profitability of the lender banks. .
(2) “Personal guarantees of promoters are not invoked”
Are these guarantees worth anything? They are usually obtained to keep moral pressure on promoters. But they are too clever to maintain substantial personal assets to be made available for recovery.
(3) “Recoveries made are lower than the estimated liquidation values.”
While this may be true for Videocon, the latest Insolvency & Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) Newsletter states as under : “Till September 30, 2022, the creditors have realised ` 2.43 lakh crore under the resolution plans. The fair value of the assets available with these CDs, when they entered the CIRP was estimated at ` 2.14 lakh crore and liquidation value of ` 1.37 lakh crore against the total claims of the creditors worth ` 7.91 lakh crore. The creditors have realised 177.55% of the liquidation value and 84.00% of the fair value (based on 456 cases where fair value have been estimated). The haircut for creditors relative to the fair value of assets was less than 16%.”. Here it would be pertinent to quote some interesting data provided by IBBI. (a) Claims > ` 1,000 crore) (a) Of the 553 CDs rescued under the Code, 97 had admitted claims of more than ` 1,000 crore. Till June, 2022, 91 such CDs have yielded resolution plans with realisable value of ` 2.17 lakh crore i.e., 184.81% of the liquidation value. (b) Of 1807 CDs, ending up with orders for liquidation, 160 had admitted claims of more than ` 1,000 crore. Till June, 2022, 151 such CDs have ended with orders of liquidation. (c) The provisions relating to CIRP came into force on December 1, 2016. A total of 5893 CIRPs have commenced by the end of September, 2022 as presented in Figure 1. Of these, 3946 have been closed. Of the CIRPs closed, the CD was rescued in 2139 cases, of which 846 have been closed on appeal or review or settled; 740 have been withdrawn; and 553 cases have ended in approval of resolution plans; while 1807 have ended in orders for liquidation. Thus liquidation cases constitute 46% of the total CIRPs closed. Of these liquidation cases, 76% were either in BIFR or non- functional or both. Thus to conclude, it may not be appropriate to over- generalize from a solitary case of Videocon. The issue of corporate default is far more complex and historically confounding to reach to any definitive conclusion. It may be pertinent to note that NDA-1 (Vajpayee Government ) had already decided to do away with the pernicious and ineffective SICA and introduce NCLT system. It is confounding that the succeeding UPA government revived SICA and BIFR and continued it for more than a decade. The legacy of this dreadful legislation enacted during Rajeev Gandhi’s tenure is sadly reflecting in the above data. Now, readers of your esteemed magazine would know why there has been an accumulation of written off accounts and why recoveries are not forthcoming from these accounts.
(4) “There is a perception that big industrialists/ borrowers are out to loot the banking system.” Let us turn to another set of data from the latest Financial Stability Report of RBI. RBI defines Large Borrowers as those having fund and non-fund based exposure of Rs. 5 crore and above. This needs to be redefined as the threshold level of Rs 5 crores has lost all significance. However, it is worthwhile pointing out that share of such ‘large’ borrowers in total credit is 47%, which means that share of small-sized borrowers is 53% and is growing. Indeed due to rise in NPA, the lending is more tilted towards non-corporate segments. Growth in credit to personal segment in H-1 of FY 23 is 20% and that to Industries is just 6.5%. Furthermore, share of top 100 borrowers in funded credit is 17.4% and in Gross NPAs is 5.4%! It is an apt example of how over-generalizations can be misleading.
(5) “Public Sector Banks do more write offs than Private Sector Banks”.
For H-1 of FY 2023’ ratio of.write-offs to GNPAs for Public Sector Banks was 20.2% and for Private Sector Banks at 30.1%. The ratio for FY 2022 was at 17.7% and 26.2% respectively for these two sectors. One must, however, concede that GNPAs of private banks is far lower than their public sector peers.
(6) “Writing off of loans means fraud and looting of the Banking system.”
This may or may not be true. One must not, however, over-generalise. Recoveries from NPAs should not be compared with amounts due but with tangible securities available for realisation. The main reason seems to be that entities are being referred to IBC after much value destruction has taken place. The current time for resolution is 680 days.The protracted delay causes further value destruction. Though IBC is one of the biggest achievements of the current regime in the field of economic reforms, the delay must be curtailed. Moreover an extreme position that all NPAs are frauds and promoters should be arrested left and right can kill the entrepreneurial and risk taking abilities. We have to guard against such totally negative approach. Furthermore, banks cannot be expected to totally focus only on recovery from written off accounts. A prudent businessman would like do more business and earn profit rather than fret about past mistakes and losses made.

However, the veil of secrecy built around the written off accounts must be done away with and the Banks and RBI should be more transparent. One of the clues to know the extent of written off cases is Provision Coverage Ratio (PCR) which is reported with and without including amounts of written off loans. A simple calculation can show us the extent of written off loans from this data.

1 year ago
" ................. corruption faced by the ordinary person has continued to increase steadily, ................" ; this seems to be very true. The issue is - what can we, common folks do to help achieve the objective set and ease the path towards its attainment
1 year ago
The issue is not just how much money is moved against the favour. The issue is how on the earth nobody notice all these loans? What exactly auditors of the bank doing? What was RBI was doing? I think the joke is Ruia's case, first they gave 13k crores guarantee and later said they dont have anything to back that guarantee. How on the earth bank accepted that guarantee at first place? As CBI started taking action all these defaulters started moving base from India means Indian Govt can not touch them any more. The same (scandal) is happen in Jet Airways case, where banks and other agencies have written off almost same 96% debt and sold Jet Airways to Naresh Goyal's right hands and employees lost all their gratuities, PF, bonus, salary dues but it is politically well managed where Sharad Pawar have direct links with Jet Airways (Praful Patel's daughter is a director of Jet Airways). Scary for taxpayers and investors like us.
1 year ago
Even though trios R arrested, main question is about money recovery..Their net assets will probably b half against the sanctioned loan..
1 year ago
It's NOT who is arrested at what time, now or later !

It's the IMPUNITY with which Probable LOOTERS of Tax Payers money GET AWAY with DACOITY,

without Investigations & Courts litigation NOT COMPLETED IN FIXED TIME !

(Honest get grinded by legal wrangles for Decades & DACOITS get away without any effect and kneading lavish lives with Shamlessness)
1 year ago
Please read sacrificed in place of victimized. In last line at the cost of other's labour.
1 year ago
Capitalism is con game. Con ecosystem include pseudo entrepreneurs, bankers , politicians bureaucrats etc. When things get hot, some have to be victimized. Pretense must be maintained. As for corruption, human society is always corrupt. It is about some strong people grabbing things depriving others.
Kamal Garg
1 year ago
There is no denying the fact that corruption in India is extremely deep rooted and no single party can actually wash it off and for that matter, corruption and freebies (revdis for that matter) is one of the curse of democracy. I do not think there is any other democratic country in the world where there is no corruption simply because you have to go to people for votes periodically. Whether optically or otherwise, some governments try to reduce corruption often with mediocre and few chosen success.
1 year ago
Is it not a political vendetta ?? Because every big defaulter is backed by politicians.
Replied to gbrhyd comment 1 year ago
Every business big or small cannot function without some form of political support and regular grease to various authorities like municipality,police,tax dept etc.This is a sad reality in India.
Sudhir Mankodi
1 year ago
Your article is with a negative biases against the present dispensation. Ambani and Adani, as alleged by Bharat Jodo Yatra leader, are actually the product of dispensation led by the grand mother of the said leader (at least Ambani) and Adani has been active in the business ever since UPA govt. Can you investigate and confirm that UPA dispensation was not the beneficiary of the largesse distributed by Adanis to them?

Further, why give political colour to the issue by questioning the timing of the arrests? As a banker - a very junior officer at that time in the year 1994, I had threatened to be present, uninvited in the daughter\'s wedding of the borrower who was resorting to delaying tactics in repaying the loan that he availed for purchase of AC. The trick worked and full repayment with interest upto the date of wedding was recovered. Some amount of arm twisting has to be done to bring the borrowers or their accomplice by those in power. You yourself would have attended the party (if invited), got the pictures and published them in the magazine as a proof of weak governance, if the govt had not arrested them! Damned if the govt acts damned if they don\'t! Further, the Gandhi-Vadra siblings are spent force and no political party, including few leaders within their own party, are taking them seriously. They do attend the shows just to add some spice. So politically, Congress, remains insignificant force to challenge the present dispensation. Agreed that the country needs a solid opposition party that would be responsible to the Nation with full accountability, unless Congress gets rid of the trio of the Gandhi family, India will never get the responsible opposition and country will continue to be run by BJP, irrespective of political drama being unfolded day in and day out by those who are talking of uniting the country. They are proving themselves as pack of jockers in a circus. Nothing more. Best wishes to them.
Replied to Sudhir Mankodi comment 1 year ago
Dear Mr Mankodi,
As a subscriber, we would urge you not to misuse this forum to make wild and personal allegations. We will have no choice but to moderate them. There is nothing in that article to back what you say and the sort of comments you have provoked.
Replied to MDT comment 1 year ago
The above testimony by an ex banker confirms the charge that some bankers chase small borrowers even to the extent of humiliating them in public by creating a scene at the wedding ceremony, they cosy up with large borrowers and loot the country and its honest taxpayers!
Replied to Sudhir Mankodi comment 1 year ago
Agree with you. Some people see RED everywhere. They have problem if the Government does not act and they also have problem with the timing of the action if the Government acts! God bless them.
1 year ago
what needs to be probed is how did Kochhar and Dhoot manager all this .Who was the political godfather behind this?Also are they the only ones?
1 year ago
Wow, deep rooted nexus will be unearthed by CBI
1 year ago
Corruption is rampant in beaurocracy, different commissions are established to resolve difficulties faced by citizens.But these commissions become another stage for corruption.There is no respite for common public in corruption one has to indulge in.This can change only if accountibility is fixed and time frame is fixed for work.
1 year ago
Chandarani's Videocon adventure got publicized due to the whistleblower and high-profile parties involved. There are bigger low-profile bandits who have caused larger hits to the banks. forget action, they are not even on the radar. It is time the government made forensic audits by the banks upto the ultimate layer of subsidiaries / associate companies compulsory in case of asset shortfall beyond say 20%. Hope this move is a part of a systematic campaign to discipline the borrowers and lenders as well.
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