The Chanda Kochhar saga dominated the annual general meeting of ICICI Bank here Wednesday, with shareholders seeking clarity on the allegations of impropriety against the MD & CEO who is on an indefinite leave since June apart from demanding action against her.
Some shareholders, who spoke at the 24th AGM, also questioned the corporate governance practices and standards at the bank, while some rallied in support saying it is just a phase which shall pass.
Kochhar has been away from office following an enquiry initiated under the retired Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna late May, but continues to hold onto her position as the managing director & chief executive, was absent at the AGM.
Government nominee on the board Lok Ranjan was also absent at the hour-long AGM chaired by newly-appointed chairman GC Chaturvedi.
Last month’s reappointment of Kochhar on the board of the bank’s broking arm ICICI Securities despite she being under probe also peeved many shareholders, who questioned the decision.
Many shareholders also spoke against the core issue of sanctioning loans to the Venugopal Dhoot-run Videocon Industries, which is currently facing bankruptcy proceedings.
Many shareholders also sought stern action from the bank on any misdoings on the part of Kochhar, while some also called for a restructuring of the top leadership given the allegations and questioned the board for initially backing Kochhar.
In March, on the eve of publishing of a news report alleging improprieties and lack of disclosure against Kochhar, the board backed her in a public statement and said loans to Videocon was part of a consortium and ICICI Bank was not the lead banker.
However, more reports came out showing Kochhar’s immediate family members, including her husband Deepak and his brother, had allegedly benefitted from ICICI Bank’s borrowers like Videocon and also the Ruias-promoted Essar group. This led to the launch of a multi-agency probe into the matter.
Later, the bank also disclosed the receipt of an internal complaint against Kochhar but did not divulge its content. This led it to the appointment of Srikrishna to carry out an independent probe in the matter.
While the Srikrishna panel report is still awaited, Kochhar’s term expires on March 31, 2019.
Replying to the concerned shareholders, Sandip Bakhshi, the newly-appointed chief operating officer who is overseeing the day-to-day affairs in Kochhar’s absence, said the bank has been taking necessary steps and also pointed to good numbers in the first quarter.
“The bank is able to perform and will come out of this,” he said, expressing his inability to take any decision on Kochhar pending the Srikrishna panel report.
Some shareholders also questioned the reasons for a jump in legal expenses and rued that this comes even as it has reduced the dividend payout.
All the 14 ordinary resolutions and four special resolutions put up by the management were passed at the AGM.