The Central Bureau of Investigation on Monday conducted searches at the residences of the founder of private television broadcaster NDTV, Prannoy Roy, and his wife Radhika in a case of an alleged Rs. 48 crore loss to the ICICI Bank.
The alleged loss was incurred due to the slashing of annual interest rate from 19% to 9.5 % on a Rs. 375-crore loan to RRPR Holding Pvt. Ltd. Properties were searched in the national capital, Dehra Dun and Mussoorie in Uttarakhand.
Based on the CBI FIR, in which provisions of corruption, cheating and criminal conspiracy have been invoked, the Enforcement Directorate is also registering a case of money laundering.
Expressing shock at the searches and terming it a “witch-hunt,” NDTV said the move was a “blatant political attack on the freedom of the press.”
It said the CBI had registered the FIR under pressure, on a “shoddy complaint by a disgruntled former consultant at NDTV,” who had earlier filed court complaints with “false allegations,” but did not get any order.
Stating that the said loan was repaid over seven years ago, the television channel also raised questions on the investigating CBI’s decision to lodge the case pertaining to a private bank, adding that charges of non-disclosure to SEBI and other regulatory bodies about related transactions were also false. It said the CBI had not yet registered cases against several industrialists who had not paid their due running into lakhs and crores of rupees.
Refuting the NDTV’s charges, a CBI spokesperson said the FIR was registered based on a February 2016 Supreme Court judgment in the Global Trust Bank case, wherein chiefs of private banks have been held as “public servants” under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The CBI has named RRPR, holding company of NDTV; its promoters Mr. Roy and his wife; NDTV India Ltd; and unknown ICICI Bank officials as accused in its FIR, which was registered over a month after a “discreet verification” of a complaint by Sanjay Dutt of Quantam Securities, which according to the FIR, is a shareholder in both the bank and NDTV.
The FIR alleges the Roys and their company took a loan of Rs. 500 crore from India Bulls in July 2008 to buy 20% NDTV shares from public in open offer and then took another loan of Rs. 375 crore from the ICICI Bank in October 2008, of which Rs. 350 crore was disbursed, to repay the previous loan at 19 % interest rate.
The case alleges that the entire shareholding of the promoters in NDTV was pledged for the loan — without any disclosure to SEBI, stock exchanges or the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The loan was repaid in August 2009 only after the bank allegedly reduced the interest rate by half. It has been alleged that RBI guidelines on advances against shares for “controlling” interest in the company were also violated.
The FIR quotes the complaint, alleging that the bank loan was repaid from a total fund of about Rs. 404 crore received in two trenches from Vishvapradhan Commercial Pvt. Ltd., which had got the same purportedly from Shinano Retail Pvt. Limited.