PNB scam exposes gaps in Indian banking sector

Rs 14,000 crore, fraud nearly brought India's second biggest state-run bank on its knees.

Update: 2019-03-22 07:36 GMT
According to new revelation, Nirav Modi breached the laws and regulations by holding onto a forged passport, as Indian citizens are not allowed to hold dual citizenship. (Photo: File)

Mumbai: The arrest of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi on fraud and money laundering charges amounting to USD 2 billion, represents a turning point in India’s efforts to deal with those attempting to trick its banking system, say experts. The Rs 14,000 crore, fraud which moreover included a few bank staff, nearly brought India’s second biggest state-run bank on its knees. Punjab National Bank (PNB) had detailed a net loss of over Rs 12,200 crore in FY18 after the scam came to light in January 2018.

Investigation by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the government and an expert panel driven by Y H Malegam named by the banking regulator brought these weaknesses to sharp focus. These incorporate blunders made by state-run banks in administration and checking of risk as well as its audits, the central bank informed a parliamentary board headed by Congress leader Veerappa Moily that tabled its report in Parliament in August 2018. The central bank moreover recognised certain gaps in its powers to regulate public sector banks (PSBs).

Without alleged lapses from board members of the bank, auditors, we might not see the scam happening, as seen in the case of the distressed Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS).

As per the RBI, none of the bank’s audit reports brought out the gaps within the processes at PNB’s Brady House Branch in Mumbai since 2011. Consequently, directors on the board of the bank had no means to be aware of these inconsistencies as they banked completely on the data given by the administration.

Vijay Aggarwal lawyer of Nirav Modi declined to comment.

“The board of directors of banks and their risk management committee should be held responsible for the fraud of such magnitude," said Ved Jain, former president of Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

PNB maintains the scam was not the result of a systemic issue. “It was one of the people’s issues and it was happening in one of the branches. The moment this surfaced, we took corrective action. We started filing with the regulatory authority and we started filing with the investigation agencies," the bank informed parliamentarians.

The increasing number of bank frauds has driven to investors getting to be very cautious in making lending decisions, said specialists.

According to RBI information, over 5,900 bank frauds including over Rs 32,300 crore were detailed in 2017-18. Pavan Kumar Vijay, founder of advisory firm Corporate Professionals, said that lenders have ended up cautious after the scam. “All banks should come together and work out a standardised process of giving loans," Vijay said.

Punjab National Bank’s financial health is improving. It reported a net profit of Rs 246.5 crore within the December quarter of FY19.

“The development is positive and we are happy about it," a senior PNB official said after news emerged about Nirav Modi’s arrest in the UK.

The PNB fraud too brought to light serious contrasts between the finance ministry and RBI’s powers. The RBI holds that not all arrangements of the Banking Regulation Act, 1937, applies to state-run banks, particularly those relating to hiring and terminating of chairmen and managing directors of public sector banks.

The finance ministry, says that the central bank has adequate supervisory powers, counting inspection of banks’ books and examining directors and other officers.

Also, withdrawal of all loan restructuring schemes and a revised framework for resolution announced by the RBI in February 2018 had expanded the transparency within the banking sector.

Thirteen state-run banks detailed a combined net loss of over Rs 21,000 crore within the first half of FY19, compared to 11 reporting a combined net loss of over Rs 6,800 crore within the same period a year back, according official information.

(With agency inputs)


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