The First Information Report filed against Radhika Roy and Prannoy Roy, the founders of New Delhi Television whose houses were raided on Monday by the Central Bureau of Investigation, has been based on an exhaustive complaint which accused the duo of “laundering funds” of Rs 403.85 crore to create an interest in favour of a shell company.
The complaint, filed by Sanjay Dutt, director of Quantum Services Private Limited, also accuses the duo and their company RRPR Holdings of “committing fraud” and “causing wilful loss of over Rs 48 crores to ICICI Bank and the shareholders of NDTV. The bank is also accused of providing a discount on the interest payable on loan.
Significantly, the FIR filed on the basis of this complaint has invoked provisions under the Prevention of Corruption Act against “unknown officers” of the ICICI Bank. Though a private bank, ICICI top executives come under the Act due to a Supreme Court direction in February. The court, in a case involving the Global Trust Bank, had said that the Banking Regulation Act when read with the Prevention of Corruption Act, brings the chairpersons of all private banks under the category of public officials.
The FIR also thoroughly reproduced the complaint from Quantum Services Private Limited, otherwise known as QSL, and invoked relevant sections from the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal misconduct. QSL claimed locus standi to initiate the complaint as it holds stakes in both ICICI and NDTV.
In the complaint, Dutt stated that in 2008-2009, NDTV, along with RRPR Holding Limited, decided to get back 1, 26,90,257 shares representing 20% of the voting share capital through an open offer from the stock market, and made a public offer of Rs 438.98 per share. The face value of these shares was Rs 4. To pay for this buy back, NDTV took a loan of around Rs 500 crores from India Bulls Financial Services Limited.
In October 2008, in order to repay India Bulls, NDTV approached ICICI for a loan of Rs 375 crores. The bank granted this loan against the entire holdings of the two promoters of NDTV Limited, it alleged. This the complaint claimed, was blatantly illegal as banks are not supposed to hold equity of more than 30% in any company. The total value of the shares pledged by the NDTV promoters was 61%. Also, there was no official disclosure of the collateral provided, the complaint claimed. Through this charge, the complaint sought action against ICICI for actively participating the conspiracy. NDTV used this money to repay India Bulls.
The complaint also claimed that the money to repay the loan came from Reliance Ventures Limited and companies with links to it. It said the money was rerouted through multiple shell companies to ultimately effect a chance of control of NDTV to one Vishakapatnam Commercial Private Limited.
The complaints also raises other allegations, including a charge that Prannoy Roy siphoned off funds of around Rs 53.85 crore to his personal account from the account of RRPR Holdings.
In all, the complaint claims ICICI lost a total of Rs 48 crores due to such illegal transactions that were allegedly carried out.
The FIR names as accused RRPR Holdings, NDTV India Limited, unknown officials of ICICI and unknown others apart from the Roy couple. It has not named Reliance Ventures Limited as an accused.
After news of the case broke, NDTV’s stock went down more than 6% in the morning trade and hit a 52-week low of Rs 58.10 per share. The company’s shares ended the day at Rs 59.50, down 4.72%.
In a statement, NDTV called the raids a “blatant political attack on the freedom of the press”.
It is shocking that the CBI conducted searches on the NDTV offices and residence of the promoters without even conducting a preliminary enquiry. This is a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press as sources confirm that under pressure, the CBI has been compelled to file an FIR based on a shoddy complaint by a disgruntled former consultant at NDTV called Sanjay Dutt, who has been making false allegations and filing cases in courts of law with these false allegations. So far, he has not obtained a single order from any of these courts.— NDTV.com
Legal analysts are astounded that where courts have rejected giving any order in all these years, the CBI conducts raids based on what is a private complaint.
The allegation appears to be for a loan which has been repaid by Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy more than seven years ago.
Even though lakhs and crores of rupees of dues have not been paid by several industrialists and no criminal case has yet been registered against any of them by the CBI, the CBI has chosen not only to register an FIR, but also conduct a search for a loan which has been duly repaid to ICICI Bank. Moreover, ICICI is a private bank.
The allegation that no disclosure was made to SEBI and other regulatory authorities is not only incorrect and false but also does not cloth the CBI with any power to register cases and search which further amplifies the fact that the search by the CBI is only a witch-hunt against independent media.
NDTV and its promoters have never defaulted on any loan to ICICI or any other bank. We adhere to the highest levels of integrity and independence. It is clearly the independence and fearlessness of NDTV’s team that the ruling party’s politicians cannot stomach and the CBI raid is merely another attempt at silencing the media.
No matter how much the politicians attack us - We will not give up the fight for freedom and the independence of media in India.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India has expressed its concern over the raids. “Entry of police and other agencies into the media offices is a serious matter,” the statement said. The guild’s President, Raj Chengappa, said that while no institution was above the law, it condemns any “attempt to muzzle the media” and asked the CBI to follow the due process of law.
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was committed to ensuring the freedom of expression for citizens and media organisations. Rathore assured the media of a fair inquiry into the matter, ANI reported.