Jaipur: The Rajasthan high court has quashed an FIR filed by ICICI Prudential against a whistleblower who exposed the systemic cross-selling of insurance schemes by the firm’s employees to unsuspecting depositors. The matter is currently being investigated by the special operations group (SOG) of the Rajasthan police.
In an order passed on January 16, justice Sandeep Mehta quashed the FIR and all other proceedings against Nitin Balchandani, an ex-employee of ICICI Prudential, who claims to have been fired after he raised the issue of cross-selling insurance products fraudulently.
The Wire had exclusively reported on the matter last year.
Nitin later took the complaint about the practice to the police, following which the SOG conducted a pre-investigation and established prima facie fraud on the part of the company.
Based on this pre-probe, the SOG launched a full-fledged investigation in November 2017, booking company officials for cheating, forging documents, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust.
“In the entire chargesheet, there is no statement of any witness to support the allegation that the petitioner fraudulently induced and thereby cheated him/her,” justice Mehta observed.
“Thus, ex-facie there was no justification whatsoever behind the action of the investigating officer to have filed a charge-sheet against the petitioner for the offence under Section 420 IPC. Likewise, there is no material so as to justify the petitioner’s prosecution for the offence under section 66 of the IT Act as well,” he noted.
On April 1, 2016, ICICI Prudential filed a FIR against Balchandani at Udaipur’s Bhupalpura police station for harming the company, duping consumers, stealing sensitive data and causing financial loss.
Sudha Sharma, associate vice-president (legal) cited CEO Sandeep Bakhshi’s mandate to authorise Rohit Saini, associate regional manager at ICICI Prudential, to file the FIR against Balchandani.
The same month, on April 30, the police presented a closure report in the court based on the fact that it had not found any wrongdoing on Balchandani’s part.
Interestingly, however, the police re-opened the case against Balchandani in June 2016, which the latter claims was done without following standard operating procedure.
A day before his PIL in the matter was to be heard by the Rajasthan HC in September last year, Balchandani was arrested and had to spend a month in judicial custody.
“After my release from judicial custody, my father told me that ICICI Group did not just want to send me to jail, but wanted to kill my credibility so I would shut my mouth,” Nitin told The Wire.
“The high court order is proof that in the end it is always the truth and only the truth that will prevail. No matter how strong or big your opponent may be, if your actions and deeds are pure, you will end up the winner in the end,” he said.
According to the SOG investigation, the bank and its officials misled consumers and violated regulatory norms issued by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).
The victims include farmers, labourers and senior citizens from rural areas of southern Rajasthan, including beneficiaries of central government schemes like the Kisan Credit Card and MGNREGA, all of whom were duped by officials from ICICI bank into buying insurance policies with huge recurring annual premiums, the police said.
ICICI and ICICI Prudential officials in the state allegedly used their large database of account holders in rural areas to target unsuspecting consumers, especially farmers, labourers and senior citizens.
The Wire sent detailed questionnaires to both companies asking for their comments on the pre-investigation and subsequent FIR. Both companies, however, refused to respond despite repeated emails and phone calls to their officials as well as Adfactors PR, the agency handling their public relations portfolio.