Trouble continues to brew for ICICI Bank CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar as fresh reports suggest that a firm promoted by her husband Deepak Kochhar received crores of rupees from a Mauritius-based company at a time when it got multi-million dollar loan from a consortium of Indian banks led by ICICI Bank.
A Business Today report said that whistleblower Arvind Gupta alleged in 2016 that the NuPower, promoted by Deepak Kochhar, received Rs 325 crore plus Rs 66 crore as quid pro quo for ICICI Bank’s Rs 3,250 crore plus Rs 660 crore loans to Venugopal Dhoot-owned Videocon Industries which had links with Firstland Holdings based out of Mauritius.
The Firstland Holdings Limited had been the mysterious privately held Mauritius-based investment vehicle for the investigators. Here is how the story has unfolded:
The Firstland Holdings got approval from the then FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) to invest in Mumbai-based NSK Holdings, which was incorporated on June 6, 2008. Within 20 days of its incorporation – on June 26, 2008 – the NSK Holdings received the FIPB approval for investment of USD 42.84 million (equal to Rs 214.5 crore at prevailing exchange rates) from Mauritius-based Firstland Holdings.
Firstland Holdings Limited, Mauritius itself was incorporated merely six months ago on December 28, 2007. The NSK’s paid up capital on the date of the FIPB approval was barely Rs 1 lakh although it had an authorised capital of Rs 2 crore. The FIPB approval said the Firstland Holdings would own 100 per cent foreign equity in the NSK Holdings.
The NSK Holdings belongs to Mumbai-based Nishant Yogendra Kanodia and Yogendra Surajmal Kanodia. They run the Matix Group, including IT/business process management firm Datamatics. Nishant Kanodia is the son-in-law of Essar Group co-founder Ravi Ruia.
Now, turn to Deepak Kochhar and his NuPower Renewables. In 2010, ICICI Bank gave Rs 3,250 crore and Rs 660 crore loans to Venugopal Dhoot-owned Videocon Industries. An identical 10 per cent foreign fundings (Rs 325 crore and Rs 66 crore) made their way to Deepak Kochhar’s NuPower Renewables.
Deepak Kochhar and Videocon promoters Dhoots had together set up a 50:50 joint-venture NuPower Renewables in 2008. These revelations led to allegations of propriety and conflict of interest. However, speaking to India Today TV, Deepak Kochhar argued, “Chanda did not know when I set up NuPower. I knew Dhoot through social circles. I told her when Dhoot exited.”
There is more. Yogendra Kanodia is an alumnus of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai where Deepak Kochhar graduated from. ICICI has an existing relationship with Kanodias. Group firm Datamatics Global Services Limited was awarded the “Best Service Provider” at ICICI Prudential Annual TATVA Awards in April, 2017. Yogendra Kanodia’s profile on the Matix Group website claims he’s a director in Datamatics group. However, the Datamatics group’s board of directors does not feature his name. Datamatics’s founder and chairman is Lalit Surajmal Kanodia.
Curiously, the two companies with identical names – Firstland Holdings Limited – were born a decade apart in Hong Kong and Mauritius. However, Firstland Holdings has questionable antecedents. As far back as November 27, 2002, the Bank of China (Hong Kong) filed a petition to wind up Firstland Holdings Limited, Hong Kong (company registration no. 0585823). It was set up way back on January 6, 1997. The company was ‘Dissolved’ on grounds of ‘Compulsory Winding Up’ by the High Court of Hong Kong on 26 August,2005.
On December 28, 2007, nearly two years after the Hong Kong-based Firstland Holdings Limited was wound up, a company by an identical name ‘Firstland Holdings Limited’ was set up. This time, it came up in Mauritius. It was incorporated with registration number C076560 by the Corporate And Business Registration Department of Mauritius.
Firstland Holdings, Mauritius invested funds aggregating Rs 325 crore (10% of the loan amount) into Deepak Kochhar’s NuPower Renewables in the form of compulsorily convertible preference shares. Who owned Firstland Holdings, Hong Kong and why it went into bankruptcy may hold answers to why Firstland Mauritius came into being.
It is not clear whether the identical names of the two companies is mere co-incidence or both belong to the same owners/promoters. Since both these companies were registered as ‘private’ at Hong Kong and Mauritius Registrars, their ownership is not publicly available. Some reports said that Mauritius-based Firstland Holdings is owned by Nishant Kanodia, son-in-law of Essar Group co-founder Ravi Ruia.
Any probe into the alleged quid pro quo and impropriety in the ICICI-Videocon case would also investigate whether the investment in NuPower Renewables amounts to money laundering and round-tripping.
Investigation into Firstland Holdings- NuPower Renewables transactions will now have to also account for why and how Firstland got FIPB approvals to invest in Kanodia-owned NSK Holdings and whether there is any link between the two or between Kanodias and the Kochhars.