The Enforcement Directorate (ED), while probing the companies owned by former ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar’s husband, Deepak Kochhar, and the Videocon group, has found these firms had appointed at least half a dozen “dummy” directors who had nothing to do with the core operations and decisions.
They were kept to hide ownership, evade tax and launder money, according to an official involved in the money laundering probe into Rs 3,250-crore ICICI-Videocon loan matter. Enforcement sleuths are learnt to have recorded statements of these directors, who admitted they were dummy representatives and that they had signed on many documents according to the instruction of their bosses.
Among others, Lakshmikant Sudhakar Katore, who was on board of Real Cleantech Private (RCPL), a Videocon group firm, was a gardener in the house of Venugopal Dhoot, chairman of Videocon Industries. Three others — Vivek Dattatraya Dharm, Kesharmal Nenusukhlal Gandhi and Chetan Ratansinh Mankerni — were on the board of Indian Refrigerator Company, another group firm of Videocon, also allegedly acted as dummy directors.
Dhoot did not respond to a query on this. An email sent to Deepak Kochhar went unanswered.
Neelam Mahesh Advani, Sharad Shankar Mhatre and Umanath Nayak were directors on Deepak Kochhar’s firms Supreme Energy, Credential Finance and Pacific Capital Services. Advani is Chanda Kochhar’s sister-in-law.
In a statement to ED, Advani said she was not aware of this directorship and had nothing to do with the company, sources in the know said. According to filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC), by 2001, Videocon owned 17 per cent stake in Credential Finance, while the Kochhar family held 2 per cent directly along with a host of investment companies. Mahesh Chandra Pungalia, an advisor to Videocon, owned another 0.8 per cent stake in CFL.
Within two years, the company started showing signs of financial stress as it was unable to repay its loans and many of the cheques issued by it started bouncing. The company had taken loans from Sicom India, a financial institution owned by the Maharashtra government and Housing Development and Finance Corporation, SBI Home Finance and a host of other private companies.
“We are in the midst of examining the voluminous documents and other evidence we have gathered so far. Sources say that Credential Finance had never a clear promoter on board and the directors had been holding less than 5 per cent in the company until 2013-14,’’ a source in the ED said. Chanda Kochhar, husband Deepak and Dhoot have been called again by the enforcement agency this week to answer queries related to statements made by the dummy directors, the source said.
They have been quizzed several times in the past also. ED is also learnt to have prepared a list of the assets of the Kochhars and Videocon group. Sources did not rule out provisional attachment of assets under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. ED had registered a case earlier this year for alleged irregularities in sanctioning Rs 1,875 crore of loans by ICICI Bank to Videocon, based on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case.