Chanda Kochhar Probe: Jaitley Cautions CBI Against “Investigative Adventurism”Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defends demonetisation on the exercise’s second year anniversary. (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Just a day after the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI’s) decided to book former ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, her spouse Deepak Kochhar, and Videocon group managing director Venugopal Dhoot for corruption in the sanction of large loans to the Videocon group, Union Minister Arun Jaitley took a swipe at the the probe agency for its “investigative adventurism”. In a rather uncharacteristic manner, Jaitley wrote a blog post to voice his disagreement with CBI’s decision to take forward the probe against ex-head honcho of ICICI.

The charges against the Kochhars include criminal conspiracy, cheating, corruption and receipt of illegal gratification for the sanction of six loans totalling to Rs 1,875 crore by the bank between 2009 and 2011, decisions which were allegedly influenced by a sweetheart deal of Rs 64 crore to Deepak Kochhar’s company from Dhoot. (Read the details here and here). The loans turned bad in 2017, saddling the bank with huge non-performing assets.

CBI has also indicated that further probes are needed into the roles of several other ICICI Bank executives, current and former, who may have had a hand in sanctioning the Dhoot loans. The names include former chairman K V Kamath, current CEO Sandeep Bakshi, other senior bank officials like K Ramkumar, Sonjoy Chatterjee, N S Kannan and Rajiv Sabharwal, apart from former directors Zarin Daruwala and Homi Khusrokhan. Daruwala is currently CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, and Khusrokhan was a former Tata Chemicals managing director.

Jaitley, who is currently recuperating after a surgery in a hospital in the US, said one of the reasons for "poor" conviction rate in India is that "adventurism and megalomania" overtakes investigators and professionalism takes a back seat.

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.
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.

Jaitley said that investigation should target the real accused on the basis of actual and admissible evidences. Jailey added that “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. “

Many banking sector experts, while agreeing that probe into the alleged nexus between ICICI Bank’s lending to Dhoot and the latter’s investment in Deepak Kochhar’s company is certainly warranted, have expressed scepticism if the CBI case will fly.

Chanda Kochhar has already been eased out of office and a new CEO, Sandeep Bakshi, has replaced her. The bank board has also asked retired justice B N Srikrishna to probe conflict of interest charges against Chanda Kochhar when she was part of the loan sanction committees.

The Premier investigative agency has so far maintained a silence over Jaitley’s comments.

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