CBI set to grill NDTV promoters; Editors Guild blasts raids

After examining the complainant Sanjay Dutt, the Central Bureau of Investigation is now reportedly preparing to summon NDTV's promoters for questioning in connection with a case relating to an alleged bank loan fraud leading to a loss of Rs48 crore to ICICI Bank.

NDTV, India's first private news channel, released a statement calling the investigations a ''witch-hunt'' conducted by multiple agencies.

''It is shocking that the CBI conducted searches on the NDTV offices and residence of the promoters without even conducting a preliminary enquiry. This is a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press as sources confirm that under pressure, the CBI has been compelled to file an FIR based on a shoddy complaint by a disgruntled former consultant at NDTV called Sanjay Dutt, who has been making false allegations and filing cases in courts of law with these false allegations. So far, he has not obtained a single order from any of these courts…,'' it said.

Raj Chengappa, president of the Editors Guild of India, said in a statement, ''The Editors Guild of India expresses its deep concern over the raids conducted by the CBI on the offices of NDTV and its promoters. Entry of police and other agencies into the media offices is a serious matter.

''While the Editors Guild maintains that no individual or institution is above the law, the Guild condemns any attempt to muzzle the media and calls upon the CBI to follow the due process of law and ensure there is no interference in the free functioning of news operations.''

The agency sleuths have also scrutinised the seized documents and a questionnaire is being prepared to be put up to the accused, according to The New Indian Express. The CBI is awaiting a response from the ICICI Bank from which it had sought the list of officials who cleared a Rs375 crore loan in 2008 at an interest rate of 19 per cent but accepted repayment at a reduced interest rate of 9.5 per cent causing a loss of Rs48 crore to ICICI Bank.

The CBI is also awaiting the documents relating to the communication between NDTV and ICICI Bank officials right from the application to the repayment of the loan 10 months later. Following a complaint from Dutt on 28 April, the CBI conducted an enquiry and registered a case under Section 420 (cheating) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act relating to criminal misconduct.

The complainant, Dutt, who was a chartered accountant for NDTV between 2006 and 2008, has alleged that money was laundered through shell companies for the loan repayment.

Dutt, who is a shareholder of both ICICI Bank and NDTV, claimed in his complaint that he was aggrieved by the ''misdeeds committed by the two promoters of NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, through RRPR Holdings, the third promoter of NDTV, in collusion with ICICI Bank''.

In his complaint he states, ''Neither the bank nor the promoters of M/s NDTV Ltd made disclosures of creation of such collateral in favour of the bank. This disclosure/permission under various statutes is mandatory to SEBI, Stock Exchanges and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.''

The CBI conducted searches at five offices and residences of NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy on Monday.