The Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday filed a first information report against former managing director and chief executive officer of ICICI Bank Chanda Kochhar, her husband Deepak Kochhar and Videocon Group’s VN Dhoot for allegedly cheating ICICI Bank of Rs 3,250 crore. Given that the case has been in the public eye for some time now, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s move is a small step towards restoring trust in India’s banking sector, which has come under fire for questionable lending practices to politically-connected corporations.
However, after this step forward, the case took two steps back. Just a day after the case was filed, the Central Bureau of Investigation officer who had signed the first information report was transferred to Jharkhand. Two days after this, senior Union minister Arun Jaitley strongly reprimanded the Central Bureau of Investigation for its actions. In a Facebook post, Jaitley described the inquiry as a case of “investigative adventurism” and “megalomania” for targeting the “who’s who of the banking industry”. This public admonishment came as Jaitley was away in the United States for medical treatment. His charge of the Union ministry of finance has been temporarily reallocated.
This fracas is unfolding against the backdrop of intense turmoil in the Central Bureau of Investigation. In October, the agency raided its own offices in a case of alleged corruption against special director Rakesh Asthana, who is percieved to be close to Prime Minister Modi. In response, the Union government voted to remove the Central Bureau of Investigation director who had authorised the inquiry, even though there were no charges of wrongdoing against him.
The Central Bureau of Investigation has been seen as a partisan body for some time now, more concerned with doing the bidding of the party controlling the Union government rather than acting as an autonomous investigative agency. In 2013, the Supreme Court had called the agency a “caged parrot” that “speaks in its master’s voice”.
Jaitley’s statement is ill-advised. The senior member of the Union government’s public criticism of this crucial case of alleged corporate corruption will further hamstring the Central Bureau of Investigation from doing what should be its primary job: investigating crime.