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Chanda Kochhar's Absence Dominates ICICI Bank Annual General Meeting

In ICICI's annual general meeting today, shareholders sought clarity on impropriety allegations against the CEO Chanda Kochhar who is on an indefinite leave since June amid various misconduct allegations

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The saga of Chanda Kochhar dominated the annual general meeting of ICICI Bank today, with shareholders seeking clarity on the allegations of impropriety against the CEO even as she was absent.

Kochhar is on an indefinite leave since June amid allegations of impropriety and 'quid pro quo' involving her and family members with respect to a loan extended to Videocon Industries by the lender.

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 and Chief Executive Officer. She did not attend 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 re-appointment 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 late March after reports of alleged improprieties in extending Rs 3,250 crore loan by the bank to Videocon Industries, the lender issued a detailed statement denying the allegations and supporting Chanda Kochhar.

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 into 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.

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