Mumbai: Less than a week after ICICI Bank Ltd mounted a defence of Chanda Kochhar against allegations of financial impropriety, its chief executive officer found herself in the eye of the storm again, with senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy calling for a probe into the dealings of financial services firm Avista Advisory Group with ICICI Bank.
In a post on Twitter, the member of Parliament (MP) raised questions about Avista’s business links with ICICI Bank. An email seeking comment from ICICI Bank remained unanswered until press time.
Avista was founded by Rajiv Kochhar, brother of Chanda Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar.
In an interview on Monday, Rajiv Kochhar said that he or his firm does not have any business arrangements with the Chanda Kochhar-run bank.
“The only rule that we follow is not to have any syndication with Indian banks at all. This is some guy who is just trying to create something. There is nothing in it. There is zero record or link between us. We are a professionally managed firm having our offices in Indonesia and Dubai, and we have dealings all over the world. India is only one part of the story," Rajiv Kochhar said.
Kochhar was reacting to reports in social media that have alleged potential conflict of interest in transactions involving his firm with ICICI Bank in several syndicated loan transactions. “Almost all our clients are foreign and these reports linking Avista with ICICI Bank are completely baseless and malicious," he said.
Kochhar maintained that while Avista was involved in a few transactions with Videocon Industries where it was retained as an adviser, the transactions were only related to the foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) of the company and had no bearing on Videocon’s existing or future loans from any Indian lender, including ICICI Bank.
“Avista is an 18-year-old company with partners who are based out of India and most of our business activity involves foreign investors," he said.
“The allegations have caused serious damage to our reputation but our clients have told us to not pay attention to these. Let this just pass and you do not even need to respond to such a thing. Our clients know us, they are not concerned about it at all," he added.
Over the years Avista has evolved into a full-service investment bank offering a gamut of financial services ranging from merger and acquisitions, debt restructuring, debt and structured financing, banking and project financing, illiquid assets and portfolio buyouts, and valuation of assets and brands.
Some of its notable deals are Suzlon’s fund raising of $577 million through Foreign Currency Convertible Bonds (FCCBs), Jindal stainless Ltd’s asset monetization programme of up to $250 million.
Avista was also involved in two transactions with Videocon Industries, which has been at the centre of the controversy surrounding Chanda Kochhar and her husband.
First, when the group opted for reorganization and refinancing of FCCBs of $194 million in 2015 and later again in 2016 when the Venugopal Dhoot-promoted company once again hired Avista for restructuring of FCCBs worth $97 million.
Avista has also had business interests with companies such as Noida-based Jaypee Group and telecom infrastructure GTL Infra. In May 2016, Avista was appointed as a restructuring adviser for $550 million of foreign currency loans of Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL) by a group of foreign banks. The entire debt was successfully restructured by the lenders subsequently.
ICICI Bank chairman M.K. Sharma had earlier defended Chanda Kochhar saying that she did not need to recuse herself from the credit committee that sanctioned loans to the Videocon group as the group was not an investor in Deepak Kochhar’s solar energy venture NuPower Renewables when the loan was sanctioned.
Shares of ICICI Bank Ltd plunged 5.93% to Rs261.90, while the benchmark Sensex rose 0.87% to 33,255.36 points on Monday.