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Crying ‘eco-terror’, ICICI goes to cops

Mumbai, Oct. 12: ICICI Bank, India’s largest private bank, has approached police with a complaint of “economic terrorism” and at least two text messages seeking to spread “malicious” rumours.

The bank has accused some brokers of rumour-mongering aimed at hammering its share price and spreading panic among investors as well as depositors.

The bank had suffered heavy losses on the stock markets following rumours that it could fall prey to the global credit crisis because of its exposure abroad.

However, bank officials, including joint managing director Chanda Kochhar, has been insisting that the financial position is strong and depositors need not worry.

In complaints filed with the economic offences wing of Mumbai police and Coimbatore police, the bank said a broker or a sub-broker in the southern city was indulging in misinformation through the text messages.

It was not clear whether the complaints named any broker. Sources said one of the complaints was filed in Mumbai because the broker was suspected to be associated with a brokerage based in the financial capital.

“The concerted effort to spread malicious rumours could be a new form of economic terrorism…,” said the complaint, which quoted one of the text messages as saying: “Kindly withdraw all your deposits and cash in account with ICICI Bank as ICICI bank already rushed to RBI for insolvency.”

The bank cited another SMS: “ICICI top officials r all sellng thr icici holdings in mkt 4 lst 2 wks. Thy knw that icici is going to annnce vry bad bankruptcy soon. This is confirmed news from1 of its board drctrs. exit all ur holding in icici all bnk stks. kamath also selling his binami holdings from 750 levels (sic).” The message was referring to the bank’s managing director K.V. Kamath.

The bank said its own investigation had traced one text message to a mass SMS- sending website called www.smsgupshup.com that has 15,480 members.

Sanjay Saxena, the additional commissioner of the Mumbai economic offences wing, said this evening that he was not aware of the complaint yet.

ICICI’s partner Prudential, Britain’s second largest life insurance company, said in London that its joint venture with the Indian company was growing stronger and rumours suggesting otherwise were “absolutely unfounded”.

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