Arvind Gupta, 65, is the man who first broke the scam involving ICICI Bank’s former CEO Chanda Kochhar, her husband Deepak Kochhar and Videocon Group’s Venugopal Dhoot with his letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2016. Gupta, who has a PhD in economics and is a consultant by profession, has been fighting several such cases for the last 40 years.
On January 13, after a long legal battle and a series of probes, the Enforcement Directorate attached Rs 78.15 crore worth of properties belonging to Kochhars in connection with the case.
In a free-wheeling interview with Moneycontrol, Gupta said he felt redeemed with the case reaching to its logical conclusion.
Q) Year 2016 was when you first flagged the case. After four years, the investigations are now reaching their logical conclusion. How does it feel?
A) When you come across an important issue, you must raise it. At this stage (of the ICICI case), I feel redeemed, satisfied and can say that yes, all is not lost. My mission is to fight the injustice done to small investors by corporations.
Q) Was there any point you or family were approached to step back in the ICICI Bank case?
A) No, I don’t think anybody has guts to pressurise me to do that in this case or any other, nor do I have a family to worry about. I’m a bachelor.
Q) Chanda Kochhar’s termination case is coming up for hearing in Bombay High Court.
A) As an accused, everybody has got their right to defend. But what I understand is that the bank has got RBI’s approval. Only then they proceeded in Kochhar’s case.
Q) How was the response from regulators when you first raised the issue?
A) They don’t even respond. There is a huge backlog of complaints in every office. Take the case of our markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, which is supposed to take care of investors’ interests. It acts in a very mechanical way, and the process takes a lot of time. Our system of addressing investor concerns is still very poor.
Q) Did you act as a shareholder in ICICI Bank case or an independent activist?
A) I’m a shareholder first. There are thousands of listed companies in the country and all of them have something or other to be spoken about. As an activist, how many cases you could take up? You don’t have time to do research and follow up on all these cases. Unless you are really aggrieved and affected, it won’t take the fight beyond a point.
Q) How much have you invested in ICICI shares?
A) I had 500 shares in ICICI bank. I still have 100 odd shares. There around 50 companies in which I have investments. In dozens of companies, my investments have gone to zero.
Q) You are invested in many companies, but chose to take up ICICI case prominently. Why?
A) ICICI Bank is no ordinary listed company. They are the icon of corporate governance and the country’s corporate history. If a top corporate like ICICI Bank gets involved in this kind of misgovernance, it is not hard to see what could be happening at thousands of other listed companies. It was important to raise this case.
Q) It is often small investors who end up being the victims. Why?
A) They always invest at a premium after trusting the company’s narrative, and end up losing money. Shareholders, who form the backbone of corporate democracy and capital market, are cheated, robbed and looted. I have been asking for a safety net for shareholders.
Q) What’s your message to small investors?
Don’t give up. Get up, raise your voice and fight until you accomplish your mission. Some day, somewhere somebody will pick up the call. The biggest problem in this country is that the media’s consciousnesses is compromised. The day right people come forward is when the country’s corporate culture will change.
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