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Will Chanda Kochhar take ICICI Bank to court?

Last updated on: February 04, 2019 19:40 IST

Most legal experts indicate the former ICICI Bank CEO will take the matter to court.
Her contention will be she can't be fired and called guilty without proof.

She may have been indicted by the probe panel, but if ICICI Bank's deposed former managing director and CEO Chanda Kochhar takes the legal route, she will have several grounds to challenge the findings of an enquiry headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice B N Srikrishna.

'Chanda Kochhar was in violation of the ICICI Bank Code of Conduct, its framework for dealing with conflict of interest and fiduciary duties, and in terms of applicable Indian laws, rules and regulations,' a statement from the bank, citing the report, said.

The bank terminated her service and decided on a 'claw-back' or to take back all bonuses given to her between April 2009 and March 2018, and also revoke other benefits and unexercised stock options.

The committee investigated her role from April 2009, when she was named MD and CEO, to March 2018.

The bank's board has said Kochhar 'ineffectively' dealt with 'conflict of interest and due disclosure or recusal requirements' while deciding on loans given to the Videocon group, in which her husband had a vested interest.

 

Delhi-based counsel Percival Billimoria, who specialises in commercial matters, says first and foremost "she can challenge the decision in court because the panel is not a judicial body and the former banker has every right to defend herself and will be perfectly justified in doing so."

The second matter is that the fundamental requirement of fairness is that due process must be followed before any person is found guilty or innocent, he added.

Justice Srikrishna, who is overseas, declined to comment when contacted.

Most legal experts indicate Kochhar will take the matter to court. Her contention will be she can't be fired and called guilty without proof.

The bank has not shared the panel report with Kochhar.

Billimoria acknowledges with such cases which involve high-profile personalities in an alleged position of conflict of interest leads to optics that are very difficult to manage.

Even if it is ultimately shown that there is no substance to the allegations, no senior official should ever place herself or himself in such a position in the first place, he adds, saying that the report finds her guilty of breach of the bank's code of conduct, which is not the same thing as saying that she or her family profited from such conduct.

Despite all that, "she needs to demonstrate innocence to the courts, and no one else", he says.

A person familiar with the case draws attention to the fact that the bank board had issued a statement in March 2018 in support of Kochhar and that there was no question of any quid pro quo or nepotism/conflict of interest.

The release went on to say the board had full confidence and had faith in Kochhar and commended the management team under her leadership.

In May, the bank appointed Justice Srikrishna to conduct an independent enquiry after an anonymous whistle-blower complaint.

In October, ICICI Bank issued another statement that the board had based the March clean chit on a law firm's enquiry report in 2016 when the allegations had first surfaced. It added the law firm had withdrawn the report, finding no evidence of nepotism and conflict of interest.

Photograph: PTI Photo

Pavan Lall in Mumbai
Source: source
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