Venugopal Dhoot, chairman of consumer durable-to-oil conglomerate Videocon Industries, has asserted that his firm got no favours from the Chanda Kochhar-led ICICI Bank, nor did he extend any favours to Deepak Kochhar, the banker’s husband, as has been alleged. Mr. Dhoot, whose plans to venture into the oil, gas and telecom businesses came undone, leading to large loans becoming non-performing assets (NPA), conceded that Videocon’s strategy of diversifying from its core business has backfired.
Please clarify your stand on extending favours to Deepak Kochhar for taking loans from ICICI Bank, where his wife Chanda Kochhar is the Managing Director and CEO.
ICICI Bank has already clarified that I have not been given any favour as I have not received a loan from ICICI [Bank] alone — Videocon Industries took loans from a consortium led by the State Bank of India. This was done after a high degree of credit appraisal by the bankers as they found Videocon to be a very lucrative investment because of its oil assets. When the matter came to the [ICICI Bank] Board, Chanda Kochhar was not the Chairperson but one of the members [of the committee]. Till the time the matter comes to the Board, Chanda Kochhar did not know which proposal was coming so she could not have influenced it. I have not invested ₹64 crore in NuPower nor issued any money to Deepak Kochhar. Then where is the question of any quid pro quo?
Why do you think the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has initiated a preliminary enquiry into alleged irregularities by ICICI Bank in extending loans to Videocon Industries? Some bank officials have already been examined.
I don’t want to comment on this issue.
Why do you think this entire controversy has started now?
You must know that a ₹660 crore loan was given to Tuskar Overseas Inc., a group company of Videocon, 12 years back, by the then Managing Director, and not by Ms. Chanda Kochhar. This loan of ₹660 core was paid back without any default. Further, a show cause notice was issued by the Enforcement Directorate to Videocon and we won the case [where it was held] that there had been no violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) by Videocon. So, how can you link this old issue with the alleged controversy? It seems to be the work of some vested interest.
The government has decided to bar 91 bank loan defaulters from leaving India. It is said that you may be on that list…
My name doesn’t feature in this 91 defaulters’ list. It only has the names of wilful defaulters and I am not among wilful defaulters. I have not gone overseas in the last five years. My passport has already expired last year and I have not renewed it yet. If I don’t have a passport, then where is the question of flying abroad?
How do you propose to repay the Videocon Group’s domestic loans of over ₹21,000 crore due to banks?
Videocon Industries had taken a loan from ICICI Bank in 2011-12 and all the interest commitments were serviced till 2017. I agree some of the interest payments are due but we have ₹40,000 crore of oil assets to take care of that. We are looking at monetising some parts of the oil assets to repay our debts and the bankers are okay with it.
Are any discussions underway, with possible buyers selling those oil assets?
We are in talks with global oil majors of the likes of Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon-Mobil to partly sell our oil assets to retire debts. Oil prices have increased to $71 a barrel and are projected to go above $90 a barrel. It will increase the valuation of our oil assets.
Do you believe that your strategy of diversifying from your core business of consumer electronics to oil and telecom has backfired on the Group?
Yes. That’s correct. Oil prices have fallen from their peak and we lost a lot in telecom.