New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday carried out searches at the residence of Prannoy Roy, the co-founder and executive co-chairperson of New Delhi Television (NDTV) channel, in New Delhi, Dehradun, and Mussoorie for allegedly hiding a share transaction from the SEBI and causing a loss to a private bank.
The NDTV in a statement termed the move as a "witch-hunt" based on "same old" false accusations.
The searches took place at two locations in Delhi and one each in Dehradun and Mussoorie.
The CBI has registered a case against Prannoy Roy, his wife Radhika and RRPR Holdings Pvt Limited for allegedly causing a loss of Rs 48 crore to ICICI Bank, CBI sources said.
Also, a case has been filed against unidentified officials of ICICI Bank of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption.
RRPR Holdings had allegedly taken a loan of Rs 500 crore from India Bulls Private Limited to purchase 20 percent shares of NDTV from the public.
The CBI has alleged that RRPR Holdings took a loan of Rs 375 crore at the rate of 19 percent per annum from ICICI Bank to repay the borrowing from India Bulls.
The promoters of NDTV pledged their entire shareholding in NDTV as a collateral to ICICI for this loan, it alleged.
This pledging of shares was not reported to the SEBI, stock exchanges and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, according to the CBI.
Such concealment was allegedly done as a creation of more than 61 percent voting capital which was in violation of Section 19 (2) of the Banking Regulation Act. It should not be more than 30 percent, the agency said.
An interest waiver of 10 percent was given by ICICI.
According to the Act, "No banking company shall hold shares in any company, whether as pledgee, mortgagee or absolute owner, of an amount exceeding thirty percent. Of the paid-up share capital of that company or thirty percent. Of its own paid-up share capital and reserves, whichever is less.”
"Provided that any banking company which is on the date of the commencement of this Act holding any shares in contravention of the provisions of this sub-section shall not be liable to any penalty therefore if it reports the matter without delay to the Reserve Bank and if it brings its holding of shares into conform?ity with the said provisions within such period, not exceeding two years, as the Reserve Bank may think fit to allow," it said.
The FIR said that a loss of Rs 48 crore was caused to ICICI bank and consequent gain by RRPR.
In a statement, the NDTV said: “This morning, the CBI stepped up the concerted harassment of NDTV and its promoters based on the same old endless false accusations."
It said NDTV and its promoters would fight tirelessly against this witch-hunt by multiple agencies.
"We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India. We have one message to those who are trying to destroy the institutions of India and everything it stands for: we will fight for our country and overcome these forces," it said.
The CBI spokesperson strongly denied the witch-hunt allegations levelled by NDTV and said the agency was following procedures laid in the law.
Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said there was no political interference in the CBI raids on Roy's properties and the law was taking its course.
"If somebody does something wrong simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet," Naidu told reporters.
The officials were doing their duty and there is no political interference in this, he said, adding that media was free and independent in the country.
"The CBI might have received some information. That is why they have taken action," Naidu said.
Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MP Dr Subramanian Swamy, who last year wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing NDTV of money laundering, told news agency ANI that fear of law is necessary.
"You cannot distinguish between media people, politicians, doctors, etc. If you have broken the law then you have broken the law. We have to develop respect for the law, and for that, we have to make it clear that nobody is above the law. Fear of the law is necessary and it will be applied no matter who you are," Swamy said.
"When all these high-profile people are raided, the common man feels that if such people can be the subject to prosecution then what will happen to them. People will automatically become honest," he added.
Swamy had earlier urged the PM to direct the CBI to file a case against NDTV under Prevention of Corruption Act.