Deepak Kochhar's alleged company moves Delhi HC for releasing assets seized by ED

A company allegedly belonging to Deepak Kochhar, husband of former ICICI bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, Wednesday approached the Delhi High Court seeking release of assets seized by the Enforcement Directorate in March last year in a money laundering case.

The company, Pacific Capital Service Pvt Ltd, sought release of the assets on the ground that the seizure can continue only for a period of one year and even after lapse of the period, no complaint (charge sheet) has been filed by the ED in the case.

The ED counsel raised a preliminary objection to the petition on the ground of jurisdiction and submitted that a similar petition challenging the seizure of assets in another case is already pending in the Bombay High Court.

Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani, after hearing part arguments, listed the matter for hearing on the point of jurisdiction on August 25.

Advocate Vijay Aggarwal, appearing for the company, submitted that as per the provision of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), seizure of a property can only continue for a period of 365 days from the confirmation of the seizure by ED.

The plea claimed that the company has no role to play in the case registered by the ED and it has not been named as an accused.

"The petitioner (company) is entitled to benefit of time period cap prescribed by Section 8 (3)(a) of PMLA and the seizure must cease to exist by operation of law and the documents/ cash/ electronic devices seized by ED from the premises of the petitioner as per the panchanama dated March 1, 2019 is liable to be released henceforth," the plea said.

The plea, filed through Deepanshu Choithani and Shailesh Pandey, said the travesty of justice is clear from the fact that after exercising powers to seize Rs 10.50 lakh cash, ED invoked powers under Section 5 of the PMLA stating that there are "reasons to believe" that properties mentioned in schedule (which includes the cash amount) is likely to be transferred or dealt with in any manner which may result in frustrating any proceedings relating to confiscation of such proceeds of crime, if not attached immediately.

On January 22, 2019, the CBI had registered an FIR for alleged cheating, criminal conspiracy and under the Prevention of Corruption Act against Chanda Kochhar, her husband Deepak Kochhar, and Videocon Group promoter Venugopal Dhoot and his companies -- Videocon International Electronics Ltd (VIEL) and Videocon Industries Limited (VIL).

It also named Supreme Energy, a company founded by Dhoot, and Nupower Renewables, a company controlled by Deepak Kochhar, in the FIR.

Thereafter, on January 31, the ED lodged a case of money laundering against Chanda and Deepak Kochhar, Dhoot and others to probe alleged irregularities and corrupt practices in sanctioning of Rs 1,875-crore loans by ICICI Bank to the corporate group.

In March last year, raids were conducted by ED during which it had seized a diary, hard disk and Rs 10.5 lakh at the office of Pacific Capital Services Pvt Ltd.

During her questioning by the ED last year, Chanda Kochhar had denied wrongdoing. She said loan approval was a collective decision and not that of an individual. Deepak Kochhar has also previously denied all allegations.

It was alleged that Dhoot had invested in Deepak Kochhar's company Nupower through his firm Supreme Energy a quid pro quo to loans cleared by ICICI Bank after Chanda Kochhar took over as the CEO of the bank on May 1, 2009.

The ownership of Nupower and Supreme Energy changed hands through a complex web of shared transactions between Deepak Kochhar and Dhoot, the CBI had alleged.

During its preliminary enquiry, the CBI had found that six loans worth Rs 1,875 crore were sanctioned to the Videocon Group and companies associated with it between June, 2009 and October, 2011 in alleged violation of laid-down policies of ICICI Bank, which have now become part of the probe.

The loans were declared non-performing assets in 2012, causing a loss of Rs 1,730 crore to the bank, it had alleged.

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