State-run Banks Directed to Tighten Vigil Against Frauds

Finmin asks PSBs to strengthen internal mechanisms to raise red flags for suspicious deals

Within days of an alleged black money scam running into Rs 6,000 crore hitting state-run Bank of Baroda, finance ministry has dashed off a letter to all public sector lenders, asking them to review their processes and step up the vigil against potential frauds.

A senior finance ministry official said the ministry has asked all state-run banks to strengthen their internal mechanisms, so that red flags are raised when there are suspicious transactions. “Stringent processes are already in place...We want banks to take stock of their effectiveness in the backdrop of this incident,“ the official, who did not wish to be named, told ET. Bank of Baroda has submitted an internal investigation report. Public sector banks have been asked to remain vigilant, the official said.

“If we feel there are lacunae in the system, PSBs will be asked to plug them,“ the official added. On Tuesday, Bank of Baroda notified the stock exchanges that between July 2014 and August 2015, around 5,853 outward foreign remittance transac tions, amounting to Rs.3,500 crore, were done from its Ashok Vihar branch in Delhi through 38 current accounts to about 400 overseas parties, mostly based in Hong Kong. The bank accepted that its branch did not adhere to Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) guidelines on remittances. “The bank has already suspended some of its officials. We believe that banks have a strong internal check mechanism and this may be an isolated case,“ the above quoted official said, adding that the government will take appropriate action if this emerges as a systemic issue.

“We are in talks with all stakeholders, including investigat ing agencies to see if it is a systemic issue or one of those instances where bank officials colluded with fraudsters,“ the official said.

Bank of Baroda has said that of the total amount involved, only 10% was deposited in cash through the bank branches and the remaining had come from 30 banks through electronic transfers in the form of real-time gross settlement system or RTGS.

“Banks have been asked to identify any black money trail,“ the official added. The income tax authorities are also initiating a probe into the matter, an official with the department said. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted searches at 50 locations last week in connection with the alleged violation of banking norms. In a statement, the agency said most of the addresses given by the companies were either false or that they did not exist at the locations.

“Most of the accused persons allegedly involved in perpetration of the said crime have been identified and their interrogation is underway . There was allegedly overseas remittance of foreign exchange of Rs.6,000 crore,“ the CBI said. The amount remitted in each transaction was below $100,000 and said to an advance towards imports, the CBI said, adding that in most of the cases, the beneficiary was the same. “Most of the foreign exchange-related transactions were carried out in newlyopened current accounts, wherein heavy cash receipts were observed but the branch did not generate exceptional transaction report (ETR) and did not monitor the high-value transactions,“ the agency noted.

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 14th Oct. 2015

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