The lawyer of Videocon Group promoter Venugopal Dhoot on Friday argued before the Bombay High Court that the industrialist’s arrest in the ICICI Bank loan fraud case was unwarranted as he was cooperating with the probe. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), on the other hand, claimed that he was trying to avoid probe. .
Dhoot, arrested by the CBI on December 26, 2022, and presently in judicial custody, has moved the high court seeking to quash the First Information Report, and has also sought interim bail.
A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and P K Chavan after hearing both Dhoot’s lawyer Sandeep Laddha and CBI’s counsel Raja Thakare reserved its order on interim relief.
Advocate Laddha argued that Dhoot had appeared before the CBI “31 times” since a `preliminary enquiry’ (PE) was registered in December 2017. .
“Dhoot was never arrested in the case. Even when the charge sheet was filed, Dhoot had appeared before the concerned court which granted him bail noting that he had been co-operating with the probe,” the lawyer said.
Dhoot had appeared before the CBI twice even last month, he said. On two other dates (December 23 and 25) he could not appear as on December 23 he had been already summoned by the Enforcement Directorate, the lawyer said.
“The CBI is holding this non-appearance for two days as non-co-operation. On December 25, the CBI issued Dhoot a notice….he appeared on December 26 and was arrested,” advocate Laddha said.
CBI counsel Raja Thakare said Dhoot was summoned in December 2022 so as to confront him with co-accused Chanda Kochhar, former MD and CEO of ICICI Bank; and her husband Deepak Kochhar, both of whom were arrested on December 23.
“There has been a systematic attempt by Dhoot and the Kochhars to avoid probe. It is a case of conspiracy. When they are outside (not arrested) they decide the precise answers to give. But the moment one person is arrested, the blame game starts and they start pointing fingers at each other,” Thakare said.
He added that the CBI wanted to bring the three accused together for interrogation. “Despite being summoned, he (Dhoot) refused to appear. The CBI at the time had Kochhars’ custody for a brief time and hence wanted to confront them with Dhoot,” Thakare said.
When the HC asked if after Dhoot’s arrest the three were interrogated together, Thakare said they were questioned together on December 26 and 27.
But Dhoot’s lawyer said this was not true. The industrialist was never made to sit with the Kochhars and questioned after his arrest, he claimed.
Thakare further said that just because there was a delay in arresting an accused, the arrest does not become illegal or unwarranted. .
“These cases are of high magnitude with high value transactions woven in layers of companies which are difficult to probe. A meticulous study is required,” he said.
If a person is hurriedly arrested then the clock starts ticking for the investigating agency to conduct the investigation within the time stipulated for the filing of charge sheet, the CBI lawyer said. .
The high court bench had on Monday granted interim bail to Chanda Kochhar and Deepak Kochhar in the case while coming down heavily on the CBI for arresting them in a “casual and mechanical” manner. .
As per the Central agency, private sector lender ICICI Bank had sanctioned credit facilities of Rs 3,250 crore to Videocon Group companies in violation of the Banking Regulation Act, Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines and the credit policy of the bank.
The CBI has named Chanda Kochhar, Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot along with Nupower Renewables (NRL) managed by Deepak Kochhar, Supreme Energy, Videocon International Electronics Ltd and Videocon Industries Ltd as accused in the FIR registered in 2019 under Indian Penal Code sections related to criminal conspiracy and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
As part of `quid pro quo’ (something given in return for favour) for the loans sanctioned to Videocon Group firms, Dhoot invested Rs 64 crore in Nupower Renewables through Supreme Energy Pvt Ltd (SEPL), and transferred SEPL to Pinnacle Energy Trust managed by Deepak Kochhar through a circuitous route between 2010 and 2012, the CBI alleged.