Cobrapost - February 3, 2014

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Operation Red Spider Continues: Cobrapost Releases More Cases Across Dozens and Dozens of Branches to Again Prove Conclusively that Money Laundering by Banks and Their Insurance Associates is a Systemic Evil and Certainly not an Aberration: Till When Will the Finance Minister and the RBI Keep Ignoring This Pandemic, Not Even Attempting To Pay Lip Service To The Need For Harsh Enforcement Action Against The These Banks’ Managements?
As viewers and readers would have gauged by now, the money laundering evil in our banking and financial system is humongous and widespread, even if the Finance Minister and the RBI prefer to look the other way round.
In Operation Red Spider III, we again expose both public and private sector banks, all marquee names: Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Bank of Maharashtra, Allahabad Bank and Bank of Baroda, all major public sector banks; IndusInd Bank, ING Vysya Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank, among the private sector banks.
The RBI continues to act as a Protector, and NOT as a Regulator or Enforcer. The RBI is loathe to admit that there exists a massive Money Laundering racket in our financial institutions across the board, flourishing under its very nose, simply because if it were to admit to this deep-rooted malaise, it would strip the RBI of its halo as a “one of the best banking regulators in the world.”
In this situation, as revealed in episode after episode of Operation Red Spider, how wise is it for the nation to open up its banking system to all kinds of private companies, ranging from corporate houses to brokers? When biggies like LIC of India, State Bank of India, Canara Bank, Punjab National Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and dozens others are engaged in Money Laundering, why expect Corporate India to be any better, especially when the track record of Corporate India in matters of corporate governance is hardly sterling?
New videos depict how bank officials at all levels show no respect for the laws of the land, fully using the banking system for laundering black money, thereby inadvertently also opening up channels that could even undermine our National Security.
We must point out that such criminal activities are anything but new to the institutions. In the next few pages of this release you will find not only proposed acts of crime but also past criminality in money laundering as admitted by officials on camera.
NEW DELHI, May 9, 2013: Cobrapost releases more instances of money laundering by banks, even in the ‘holier than thou’ public sector – Bank of Baroda, Allahabad Bank, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, and Bank of Maharashtra – thereby conclusively proving that the rot is endemic. Following up on its mega-expose of March 14, 2013 codenamed Operation Red Spider, Cobrapost brought to you more shocking cases of fraud from within banks on April 5 and on May 6.
In this edition, codenamed Operation Red Spider Part III, we bring you 10 banking institutions – IndusInd Bank, Bank of Baroda, ING Vysya Bank, Allahabad Bank, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Bank of Maharashtra, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank – and the murky world that exists within their walls, with junior to top level officials at dozens of branches admitting on camera their complicity in crime.
The videos, across the large spectrum of such illegal activity, clearly prove that this is not simply the design of some criminally oriented officers, or for that matter, some young, front-office executive succumbing to performance pressures. It proves without doubt that this corruption is endemic, and spread through the Indian banking and insurance system.
However, the reaction of the authorities to videotaped evidence on such a large scale has, at best, been tepid. Initially, the nation’s highest financial controller, the RBI, remained insensitive, with its Deputy Governor K.C. Chakrabarty dismissing all evidence because he thought it was okay since “no transaction” had taken place.
Thereafter, all banks have been asked to strictly adhere to KYC norms. Even older account holders’ antecedents are being verified. The banks involved in money laundering have punished their staff members – 50 so far – with suspension. The Finance Ministry has asked the Banking Association of India to launch a thorough probe into the functioning of all banks, while individual banks have announced their own probe, and punishing the staff involved with suspension.
Whether such inquiries are followed up with visible and effective action on ground or not, only time will tell. But if the RBI and the Finance Ministry are waiting for more clinching evidence to finally act on it, we here present yet more shocking videos that should normally awaken any law enforcement authority. We hope that the authorities wake up to the ground realities and start the requisite legal procedures.

IndusInd Bank
Ironically, its motto is: We make you feel richer
Now let us tell you what lessons our reporter learnt at this bank:
At one of the branches of IndusInd Bank in an upscale area of South Delhi, its Personal Banking Head N. Anand customizes the Family Income Builder scheme, in tie-up with AVIVA – a maximum yearly deposit of Rs. 5 lakh – which means Rs 15 lakh for three investors and Rs 1.5 crore in 10 years. It also means that you are depositing less than Rs. 10 lakh a year in an account. Cash in lockers is okay, and you can count your money ‘araam se’ (in comfort) inside the branch.
At the bank’s branch in Hyderabad, Branch Manager S. Mishra and Operations Manager Amitaare bolder. It is the same Family Income Builder scheme, and when we talk about how to put in cash, they say “woh to hum baad me karenge (We will do that part later).” She has full co-operation of the bank: “Hum bank ke through kuch na kuch alternative bana sakte (We can arrange for some alternative through the bank).”
She actually solves the Rs. 5 lakh investment limit issue. Take out another policy a month later, without PAN card.
She throws light on the 7-year life of an Income Tax notice. She also advises the reporter on the Streedhan clause that can move a large portion of the black money out of the reach of the law for good.
At another branch of the bank in Hyderabad Branch Manager T. J. Reddy and Customer Services Manager Srikanth K. offer great ideas.
Srikanth explains the ‘pattadar passbook’ or a passbook for agricultural income. The bank will do that. In this way we can get away even after we provide the PAN. When we want more accounts and more account holders, the bank offers to make these ‘benami’ accounts for us, with only us having the authority to withdraw. The bank even provides these faceless people for the accounts.
Bank of Baroda
The bank calls itself ‘India’s international bank’.
Now let us tell you what lessons our reporter learnt at this bank:
For R. C. Verma, Senior Manager and S. Kamran, Manager at its Gurgaon branch, slow and steady wins the race. But be sure: they do win. Kamran says: “Aur toh aap humare touch mein aaoge toh aapka sub number ek mein aise hi convert kara denge … aapko pata bhi nahin chalega (If you keep in touch with us, we will convert all your money into white … you will not even know it).”
The hubris is amazing. Both managers are okay with cash in lockers. In fact, they want it that way, so they can slowly route the cash to investments.
D. Singh, Senior Manager at BB’s South Delhi branch gives us a fine idea: “Aise aadmi ke naamdaal doonga jo return file na karta ho (I will put in the name of a person who doesn’t file the return).”
Or, “Joint account kar lo, pahla naam uska rakhlo jiska tax nahin hoti hai, doosra apna rakh lo jo monitoring karni hai … monitoring karenge to woh nikal hi nahin payega … paper bhi apne paas rakhna…. bagair papare ke waise hi nahin niklega (Do it through joint account. Put his name first, then for the second account holder put the name of the one who will be monitoring it. If you are monitoring then he won’t be able to withdraw money … keep the papers with you … without papers it won’t be withdrawn ).”
R.R. Bhaskar, Senior Branch Manager of BoB, South Delhi, says: “Actually ikkatthe nahin karna chahenge… ekdum se light mein aa jate hain [Actually, it has not to be done in one shot… (it) may bring it to light immediately].”
Bhaskar also sees the agricultural income route: “Usme kya hai ki you can justify … agriculture land pakka hogi inki … agriculture land ka paisa is mein dekhayenge … income tax walon se bachne ka ek ye tarika hai (The thing is that you can justify … I am sure he owns agriculture land … we can show agricultural income… this is one method to stave off the Income Tax people).”
ING Vysya Bank
The following are the lessons our reporter learnt at this bank:
A. Bhaskar, Deputy Manager of the bank in Chandigarh, isn’t exactly in the category of a serious banker, but is still conversant with most underhand dealings that the system incorporates. In bringing cash from the minister’s house, he is careful to take his own car, not the bank’s, and though he has not been to see the lockers, he can surely arrange for cash to be stashed there.
Manager P. Saha and Relationship Manager S. Das of the bank’s Kolkata branch have been there, done it. Saha explains the goodness of insurance policies: “This is the only product jahan par government haat nahin laga sakta… Yeh government bond debenture me jaata hai… aur 10 saal, 12 saal baad jo maturity hota hai, government has no right to touch LICs. Because it’s related to the life of an individual… (This is the only product that the government cannot touch. These are invested in government bonds and debentures that mature in 10-12 years… The government has no right to touch LICs, because it’s related to the life of an individual).”
S. S. Sudhir, the Branch Head at the bank’s another branch in Hyderabad explains when an account is tracked by authorities:
“Cash aap… dal sakte.. isme tracing nahin ata. Tracing ap ko tab hoga jab agar aap ko … kuch transactions hua. Matlab aapko transactions ka track kahin pe hua… Matlab yeh Hyderabad mein aap transaction kar rahe hain… if you do any transaction with anybody… that particular account is called for any explanation, then you check from there where it has been routed… In that sense if they to track all that then it comes… (You can put in cash. There is no tracing in this. Tracing happens when you have some transactions. That means any of your transactions are tracked anywhere. Say, this is Hyderabad, you are doing transactions…if you do any transaction with anybody… that particular account is called for any explanation, then you check from there where it has been routed… In that sense if they to track all that then it comes…)”
Basically, the probability is low, she says.
Regarding transferring money out of the country, she sheds light on certain dealings: “Most of the people are doing, you know, they are taking out the money and sending it … and then setting up the business…” And banks are complicit in this.
Allahabad Bank
This is one of the leading public sector banks of the country. Established in 1865, it prides itself in its ‘Tradition of Trust’. This trust, however, is now in doubt.
Chief Manager A. Sharma and Senior Manager R. M. Ahuja of the bank’s South Delhi branch form a cozy coterie within the bank, greasing paths for all the black money available.
Even a retired officer, Khanna, is among the coterie. Says he about a benami account: “Account khologe aap … agar uske naam pe jama karna hai toh usko mat lao … aap khud jama kar do uske naam pe (If you want to deposit money in his name, don’t bring him, you deposit).”
Central Bank of India
Another leading public sector banking behemoth, this bank has more to hide despite its glorious past.
S. K. Garg, Chief Manager of the bank’s upscale branch in Central Delhi provides a way out to move cash into accounts. “Main aapko ek cheez sahi bata deta hoon … jo LIC karwani hai wo toh cheque se karwaiye … aur baaki jo main aapko jo hai … ya toh alag alag bank pe jo hai … pachaas pachaas hazar rupaye ki DD bana dijiye … naam mein jismein bhi account aap kholte hain … baad mein wo clearing mein daal ke … wo jama ho jayega (Let me tell you one thing … do the LIC [policy] by cheque … and with the rest of the cash … get several DDs for Rs. 50,000 each from other banks in the names you will open the accounts here … later on you can put them all into clearing … that [money] will be credited [in those accounts]).”
Allahabad Bank
Chief Manager A. Sharma Sharma of the bank’s Defence Colony branch in New Delhi makes his apathy for the system clear: “Pehle kahte ki jisko TDS katata hai unke naam do … ab jinka bhi tax katta hai, TDS kate ya na kate … unka naam mangne lag gaye department … pehle to hum log kaafi manage karte the (Earlier they [the Income Tax Department] used to ask for the names of people whose TDS is deducted … nowadays, they have started asking names of all who are taxable, no matter if there is TDS or not … earlier we could manage a lot).”
R. M. Ahuja: “Abhi to proof aur ye sab hone lag gaye hain … humare paas … humne … benami humne … kitne hi customers ka lakhon rupaya … aaj se bees saal pehle, jis samay lakh … aaj ka crore se bhi jyada hoga unke keemat … wo de jaate the … humne apne driver ke naam account khole … yun hi sign mar diye (Now they have started asking for proofs and all that … 20 years ago … we had many customers who will just give us lakhs of rupees … a lakh on those days is worth more than a crore today … we used benami accounts … in the name of our own drivers … we signed for them just like that).”
On December 17th last year, Parliament gave its nod to a bill which seeks to enlarge the definition of Money Laundering offences that could help the funding of terrorist operations. The Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha by voice vote.
It may be pointed out that the Cobrapost undercover reporter was never grilled about the origin of the money, or what it was intended for, by any banker. The bankers were simply not interested. Methods adopted in Operation Red Spider could easily be utilized by any terror organization to move huge amounts of money. This, thus, becomes a case of National Security, and the perfunctory and dismissive nature with which the RBI, the Finance Ministry and the banks have been treating this only makes the situation extremely dangerous.
Cobrapost reiterates India’s responsibility as a signatory to FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering), because the republic has treaty obligations to block precisely the kind of money laundering that the Cobrapost expose shows as rampant in the 10 banks mentioned. Operation Red Spider Part III again conclusively shows that the RBI and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Finance Ministry have failed in stemming the systemic rot in the banks.
The other surprising thing observed in this huge undercover investigation by operation is the incredible urgency with which officials are pushing the sales of the banks’ gold coins/biscuits. While the coins/biscuits present an easy option for laundering black money, this policy could have certainly helped in triggering the huge spike in retail gold prices in the country before the worldwide slump in this metal happened – not to mention, be the cause behind India’s ballooning Current Account Deficit.
Yet another unholy alliance that has come unstuck is the liaison or tie-ups these banks have with the insurance companies, including the public sector behemoth Life Insurance Corporation of India. When the banks fail to provide a smooth channel to launder the cash, they quickly call upon their insurance company ‘buddies’ and fix a deal that suits our objective the most.
It is imperative to point out here that the financial institutions of the country, as a whole, are answerable to the people of the Republic of India. They need to explain to the average tax-payer and even to the daily wage earner, who deem these behemoth institutions as upholders of the trust they place in them, how such brazen acts of crime have been perpetuated for so long.
We used the same method as before. Our undercover reporter, Associate Editor Syed Masroor Hasan simply walks into a bank, armed with a fabricated story of a fictitious minister’s ill-gotten wealth, in cash. He asks the officials for a way to ‘invest’ this imaginary unaccounted money – starting with amounts as large as Rs. 50–60 lakh or even Rs. 1 crore, leading up to amounts often as huge as Rs. 37 crore – in legal schemes in the long term, with not only the sole purpose of laundering the black money but also to get handsome returns on that.
Logically, any official of any established bank should immediately distance himself/herself from such a story and its blatantly illegal consequences. These set of bankers and insurers, as in those we exposed in our last two episodes, welcomed our reporter and offered several innovative ways to channelize the cash. They were eager to accommodate the offer at any cost.
The following were the methods suggested most frequently by the banks:
 Open account and mention PAN, but always deposit just under Rs. 10 lakh in cash in one financial year. So no ‘automatic’ reporting.
 Open ‘benami’ accounts in the names of people who might not even have any knowledge its existence. Route your black money through them.
 Buy gold coins/biscuits in small amounts, totally avoiding the use of PAN, then sell to get payment in cheques.
 Route cash through insurance schemes from your many accounts. Make small investments at a time, use many schemes and many policies.
Bankers are at pains to remind you of three very important aspects of underhand dealings:
(a) The government does not have the right to touch insurance policies, because these deal with the life of an individual.
(b) If the women in a family have insurance policies bought with black money, they can sign a form that labels this as Streedhan or Women’s Wealth. As a banker helpfully put it, even if there is an Income Tax raid at your home, they will not be able to touch this particular policy.
(c) Nobody can question the source of income for gain from an insurance policy after 7 years.
 Have several DDs drawn by other people in the names in which you open accounts.
 Create a ‘pattadar’ pass book, or a pass book for farm income. Farm income is not taxable. The bank will create documents showing your ownership of farm land. Pour your black money into your account using this pass book. Technically, you are paying in white money.
 Personally come to the residence of the client to take the black money deal forward and collect the cash.
Be informed that the above is not even an exhaustive list.
What the Law of the Land has to Say on Money Laundering?
The videos, through Cobrapost’s undercover investigation in Operation Red Spider Part III, clearly show the gross violation of rules and regulations, framed under various laws of the land, namely, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002, the Income Tax Act and the Indian Penal Code, among others.
Sections 118, 119 and 120 of the Indian Penal Code which clearly establish an offence in both scenarios: Where an offence has been committed and where an offence has not been committed. If we test the Cobrapost findings on these provisions, although “no transaction” took place, their willingness to conduct transaction establishes their design of committing an offence, and hence their culpability, beyond doubt. The IPC also establishes concealing the design to commit as an offence and as such holds it punishable to a term defined therein.
Here is what Section 120 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 says:
Whoever, intending to facilitate or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby facilitate the commission of an offence punishable with imprisonment, voluntarily conceals, by any act or illegal omission, the existence of a design to commit such offence, or makes any representation which he knows to be false respecting such design,
Shall, if the offence be committed, be punished with imprisonment of the description provided for the offence, for a term which may extend to one- fourth, and, if the offence be not committed, to one- eight, of the longest term of such imprisonment, or with such fine as is provided for the offence, or with both.
As to the sweeping statement of the RBI Deputy Governor that “Allegations do not mean flouting norms,” we can only hold the various provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002 as mirror to what he claims to be “transactional issues and have nothing to do with money laundering”. Section 3 as defined in the Act 2002 emphasizes:
Whosoever directly or indirectly attempts to indulge or knowingly assists or knowingly is a party or is actually involved in any process or activity connected with the proceeds of crime and projecting it as untainted property shall be guilty of offence of money laundering.
Operation Red Spider III covers the length and breadth of the country, and dozens of explicit cases of meticulous plans for fraud. These, as in the cases exposed before, were done by the banks’ officials with extreme impetuosity that can only arise when the full system backs them up to the hilt, in defiance of all banking norms and ethics, as well as the laws of the land.
Aniruddha Bahal
New Delhi
May 9, 2013
For more details log onto our website: www.cobrapost.com

Case 1, IndusInd Bank





Case 2, Bank of Baroda







Case 4, Allahabad Bank



Case 5, Bank of India


Case 6, Central Bank of India


Case 7, Bank of Maharashtra



Case 8, HDFC Bank



Case 9, ICICI Bank


Case 10, Axis Bank


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Operation 136: Part 1


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Cobrapost, which was founded in 2003 by Aniruddha Bahal, the co-founder of Tehelka, is a critically acclaimed Indian non-profit news website and television production house, predominantly known for investigative journalism. Read More >>

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