The Supreme Court on Monday disposed of the CBI’s plea challenging Bombay High Court’s order granting interim bail to former ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar and her businessman-husband Deepak Kochhar in the loan fraud case.
Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal disposed of the petition after Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the probe agency, stated that the high court had delivered its verdict last week in the main case, but the judgement had not yet been uploaded.
On February 6, the Bombay High Court deemed the arrest of Chanda Kochhar and her husband by the CBI as “illegal” and affirmed its January 2023 interim order granting bail to the couple.
The apex court clarified that it was disposing of the CBI’s plea, but either side would have the liberty to challenge the main verdict of the high court in accordance with the law.
“We clarify that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits of the case,” the bench said.
The couple was arrested by the CBI on December 23, 2022, in the Videocon-ICICI Bank loan case. They promptly approached the high court challenging their arrest and sought it to be declared illegal, while also seeking release on bail as an interim relief. On January 9, 2023, the high court, in its interim order, granted them bail and criticized the CBI for making the arrest in a “casual and mechanical” manner without proper scrutiny.
The CBI challenged the interim order before the apex court, arguing that the high court presumed incorrectly that the offence was punishable with a maximum sentence of seven years without considering Section 409 of the IPC (criminal breach of trust by a public servant), which entails a sentence ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.
The top court had questioned the CBI on how Section 409 of the IPC came into play when ICICI was a private bank. The agency argued that although the bank was private, the matter involved public money. Subsequently, the top court reprimanded the probe agency for not objecting to the repeated extension of the two-week interim bail granted to the Kochhars.
The CBI alleges that private sector lender ICICI Bank had sanctioned a credit of Rs 3,250 crore to the Videocon Group companies promoted by Venugopal Dhoot in violation of the Banking Regulation Act, Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines, and the bank’s credit policy.
The CBI had 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 IPC sections related to criminal conspiracy and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. It also alleged that as part of a quid pro quo, Dhoot had made an investment of 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.