The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday examined Sanjay Dutt, the complainant in an alleged bank fraud involving NDTV co-founder Dr Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy, to acquire clarifications needed to commence its probe.
The investigation agency had registered an FIR against the duo, besides a private company owned by them, on June 2. It is alleged that the firm – RRPR Holding Private Ltd – had violated Reserve Bank of India guidelines to acquire a loan.
In 2008, ICICI Bank had granted the private holding company a loan of Rs 366 crore on the basis of NDTV shares that were allegedly valued more than its actual price at the Bombay Stock Exchange. According to the FIR, ICICI settled for foreclosure of the loan within a year – agreeing to a part-waiver of interest that allegedly resulted in a loss of Rs 48 crore for the bank.
The FIR was registered on the basis of allegations levelled by Dutt against RRPR and its directors. CBI sleuths raided properties belonging to Roy on Monday morning, spurring an outcry from civil rights activists, Opposition parties and a section of the media. It was alleged that the probe agency was stifling freedom of the press and expression on the behest of the central government.
The investigation agency has dismissed the charges.
CBI officials told HT that besides examining Dutt, they have approached the ICICI Bank to seek documents related to the loan. Officials who had carried out the financial transaction between RRPR and the bank are also being questioned.
The private news broadcaster, meanwhile, denounced the move as a witch-hunt to stifle free speech. But the CBI reiterated its commitment to the free functioning of media operations, and said that “searches were carried out only on the premises of the promoters and their offices on the basis of search warrants issued by the competent court”.
The complaint alleges that NDTV promoters participated in a criminal conspiracy with unidentified officials of ICICI Bank to violate section 19(2) of the banking regulation act as well as a “master circular” issued by the Reserve Bank of India.
“This, as a consequence, caused a wrongful loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank and corresponding wrongful gain to NDTV promoters,” the CBI said.