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Report: US regulator steps up probe into India-based ICICI Bank's loan practices

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Report: US regulator steps up probe into India-based ICICI Bank's loan practices

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has questioned ICICI Bank Ltd. officials on the Indian bank's loan practices, Mint reported July 26, citing two people familiar with the development.

The U.S. markets regulator reportedly spoke to top ICICI Bank officials, including CFO Rakesh Jha and General Manager Rajendra Khandelwal, twice in the past few months. The SEC was said to have asked bank officials about the way loans were serviced, provisioning details and recovery dates, among others, said one source.

The SEC is looking into the bank's accounting practices, in particular those related to loans disbursed between 2010 and 2016 and alleged to be ones that the bank delayed provisioning on. The U.S. regulator began the probe in 2016, but the investigation gained momentum after a third whistleblower complained to U.S. and Indian regulators that the bank unfairly delayed provisioning in at least 31 loan accounts to beef up its profit by at least US$1.3 billion in the last eight years.

The SEC is looking into the matter as ICICI Bank's American depositary receipts are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The whistleblower claimed the bank issued hundreds of letters of credit to troubled corporate borrowers to help them avoid defaults. The bank also allegedly issued letters of credit against fictitious bills to service a number of loans, a practice that would violate anti-money laundering norms, if proven.

ICICI Bank did not respond to the publication's emails about the matter, and the SEC declined to comment, Mint reported.

The investigation into the bank's loan practices comes amid another investigation by Indian authorities into loan irregularities involving its CEO and managing director, Chanda Kochhar, who has since gone on leave.