Cobrapost expose: Govt, regulators ask banks, insurers to initiate probe

In latest expose, Cobrapost accuses more than a dozen public banks, financial institutions of money laundering
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First Published: Mon, May 06 2013. 10 43 AM IST
From aiding customers to invest unaccounted money in insurance policies to advising them on ways to avoid coming under the income-tax scanner, officials of the banks have been caught on tape violating the so-called KYC norms, says Cobrapost. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
From aiding customers to invest unaccounted money in insurance policies to advising them on ways to avoid coming under the income-tax scanner, officials of the banks have been caught on tape violating the so-called KYC norms, says Cobrapost. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Updated: Mon, May 06 2013. 11 39 PM IST
New Delhi: State Bank of India (SBI), Life Insurance Corp. of India (LIC), Bank of Baroda (BoB) and Punjab National Bank (PNB) are among more than a dozen state-run banks and financial institutions that have been accused of money laundering by online magazine Cobrapost.com in its latest exposé.
The allegations have prompted the government and the regulators to direct these institutions to investigate the matter and initiate action against errant employees.
Cobrapost has also accused private sector banks and financial institutions, including Yes Bank Ltd, Reliance Capital Ltd, Birla Sun Life Insurance and Tata AIA Life Insurance Co. Ltd, and some politicians of indulging in money laundering.
From aiding customers to invest unaccounted money in insurance policies to advising them on ways to avoid coming under the income-tax scanner including quoting wrong permanent account numbers (PAN) and splitting the money involved into a number of small transactions below the reporting threshold, officials of these 23 banks and insurance firms have been caught on tape violating the so-called KYC (know-your_customer) norms put in place to prevent tax evasion and also various laws under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Income-Tax Act, Cobrapost said.
Financial services secretary Rajiv Takru has directed the banks to probe the allegations and suspend errant employees. “The inquiry must be initiated and completed expeditiously,” he said. The finance ministry has also sought an action-taken report from the banks.
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) has also asked companies named in the expose to file a report on the allegations. “The matter is under examination and appropriate action will be taken at the earliest,” it said.
Cobrapost had alleged in March that ICICI Bank Ltd, Axis Bank Ltd and HDFC Bank Ltd were involved in money laundering. Subsequently, the central bank and other government agencies initiated investigations to probe the allegations.
The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) investigation revealed certain lapses on the part of these banks pertaining to KYC guidelines and also raised some systemic issues that needed to be addressed, Takru said last month.
RBI governor D. Subbarao said last week that the central bank will be issuing showcause notices against the banks. “Number of specific transgressions have come into light. We have talked to those banks, told the CEOs about the deficiencies, forensic auditors have done their audit... So thematic studies are complete. Now we will be issuing them showcause notices.” he had said.
Cobrapost has released transcripts of conversations involving executives at banks and finance companies where they are shown to be all-too-eager to gain business, even at the cost of violating the country’s laws. Mint hasn’t seen the original recordings and cannot vouch for their authenticity. Anniruddha Bahal, founder and editor-in-chief of Cobrapost.com, said, “This clearly shows that money laundering is not confined to private banks and the earlier expose was not an aberration,” he said.
“It will be too early to comment on the impact. There is no official word yet from RBI or any other government agency,” said Hatim Broachwala, an analyst at Karvy Stock Broking Ltd.
Pratip Chaudhuri, chairman of SBI, said the bank has ordered a detailed investigation and is looking into all the allegations. “Wherever we will find that people have deliberately violated or encouraged people to violate, we will take the most stringent action. The financial services secretary has spoken to me. He has asked that banks find out what the facts are,” Chaudhuri said.
M. Narendra, chairman and managing director of Indian Overseas Bank, said the bank has zero tolerance for such practices and will take action against the employees who are found guilty.
A Reliance Capital spokesperson denied the “baseless” allegations and said the company adheres to strict internal controls. “Reliance Life is continually working with regulators and other life companies to weed out the chronic industry issue of misrepresentation by external agents and/or sales managers”.
BoB, IDBI Bank, Birla Sun Life, DCB, LIC and Tata AIA Life said they are investigating the allegations. All of them, however, said they follow robust mechanisms to ensure that KYC and anti-money-laundering guidelines are followed. “They have raised an issue which is specific to a case. In general, our bank is compliant with the norms, but we will investigate this specific issue,” said Shyam Srinivasan, managing director and chief executive of Federal Bank.
Officials of Indian Bank, Central Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Allahabad Bank did not respond to text messages and calls seeking comment. Dena Bank, Canara Bank, Dhanalaxmi Bank and Corporation Bank officials could not be reached. Emails sent to ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank and Yes Bank remained unanswered.
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Mon, May 06 2013. 10 43 AM IST
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