India’s PNB bank fraud likely to swell beyond $2 billion mark

Punjab National (PNB) and police have accused two jewelry groups of colluding with bank employees to get credit from overseas banks using fraudulent guarantees. (Reuters)
Updated 06 March 2018
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India’s PNB bank fraud likely to swell beyond $2 billion mark

MUMBAI: The extent of the unraveling fraud at India’s state-run Punjab National Bank could rise beyond the nearly $2 billion mark so far outlined by the lender, according to a source involved in the probe and court documents reviewed by Reuters.
The source, who asked not to be named, said investigators had not yet recovered all the papers and loan guarantees allegedly issued by rogue employees of the bank, and consequently believed the bank’s exposure could be greater than revealed so far.
In what has been dubbed as the biggest fraud in India’s banking history, Punjab National (PNB) and police have accused two jewelry groups — one controlled by diamond tycoon Nirav Modi and the other by his uncle Mehul Choksi — of colluding with bank employees to get credit from overseas banks using fraudulent guarantees.
Both Choksi and Modi have denied the allegations and lawyers for the two key accused PNB employees in the case have also said they are innocent.
According to court filings, the exposure to three companies controlled by Modi has been estimated at 64.98 billion rupees ($999 million), while firms controlled by Choksi have been accused of defrauding the bank of 61.38 billion rupees.
India’s federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), has told a Mumbai court that the amount involving Modi’s companies was likely to go up, according to the source and court filings, copies of which have been reviewed by Reuters.
The CBI told the court that its investigation had found that the fraudulent issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs), or guarantees, through a Mumbai branch of the bank had been going on since 2010.
In papers filed on Monday, the CBI also said PNB did not have all the documents related to the LoUs, since those were returned to the borrower.
“Most of these documents are not yet recovered. The size of the fraud has now gone (up)...and the same is likely to go even higher,” the CBI said in the court filing.
PNB did not respond to requests on Tuesday seeking comment on the risk of its exposure rising further.
The bank initially reported to authorities on Jan. 29 that the jewelry groups had defrauded it of 2.8 billion rupees, or about $44 million. On Feb. 14 it said the fraud sum had reached $1.77 billion after a detailed investigation.
It raised the amount further to nearly $2 billion last week, saying it had discovered some $200 million more in fraudulent letters of credit, another form of credit guarantee, issued to Choksi’s Gitanjali group.


2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

Updated 23 June 2018
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2 years on, Brexit vote has taken a toll on UK economy

  • Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals
  • The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum

LONDON: While it’s still unclear what Brexit will look like when it happens next year, the decision to leave has already had a clear effect on the economy: households are poorer, companies are more cautious about investing, and the property market has cooled.
In the two years since the vote to leave the European Union, Britain has gone from being a pace-setter among the world’s big economies to falling into the slow lane. And the uncertainty over what relations with the EU will be when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019 could make matters worse.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government remains split on what those relations should be. There are those who favor a “hard Brexit,” a clean break that takes Britain out of the bloc’s free trade union but also gives it more freedom to strike new trade deals around the world. Others want to keep Britain as close as possible to the EU, Britain’s biggest trading partner, which could mean it has to obey more of the bloc’s rules.
Big companies are sounding the alarm bell, with plane making giant Airbus this week threatening to pull out of the country, where it employs 14,000, if it gets no clarity on future trade deals.
“Thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs are now on the line because of the shambolic mess the government have created over the Brexit negotiations,” said Darren Jones, the lawmaker for the community where Airbus has its plant.
Before the referendum of June 2016, the British economy had been one of the fastest-growing industrial economies for years. Now, it’s barely growing. In the first quarter of this year it expanded by just 0.1 percent from the previous three-month period, its slowest rate in about five years.
For most people, the first and most noticeable impact was the drop in the pound. The currency slid 15 percent after the vote in June 2016 to a post-1985 low of $1.21. That boosted prices by making imports and energy more expensive for consumers and companies — the rate of inflation hit a high of 3 percent late last year.
The weaker pound helped some companies: exporters and multinationals that do not sell mainly in the UK But it hurt consumer spending and businesses that depend on their shopping. The retail industry was hit hard, with high-profile companies like Toys R Us and Maplin going bust, and supermarket chain Marks and Spencer planning deep cuts.
While prices rose, wages lagged, even though unemployment is at its lowest since 1975, at 4.2 percent.
“After Brexit, prices definitely went up,” said Nagesh Balusu, manager of the Salt Whisky Bar and Dining Room in London. “We struggled a bit earlier this year, so now we’ve increased the prices.” The bar is next to Hyde Park, a popular destination for foreign visitors. “The tourists have a good exchange rate. They know they can spend a little bit more than they usually do. But the locals are coming a little less. They are starting to think about how much they spend.”
The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, estimated recently that average household incomes are around 900 pounds lower than the bank was forecasting on the eve of the referendum.
The real estate market, meanwhile, has cooled considerably, with the number of property sales in London near a historic low last year, according to estate agent Foxtons.
While some foreign prospective buyers were attracted by the drop in the pound, others seem to have been scared off by uncertainty over what Brexit might mean for their investment.
House prices are stagnating after years of gains, also due to expectations that the Bank of England will keep gradually increasing interest rates.
Nic Budden, Foxton’s CEO, predicts that the real estate market will remain challenging this year, while Samuel Tombs, analyst at Pantheon Economics, predicts that house prices will flatline for the next 6 months.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty, businesses have become more reluctant to invest in big projects. Because Brexit could lead to tariffs on EU imports of British goods, companies are hesitant to spend big on British plants and office space before they know what the new rules will be.
Benoit Rochet, the deputy chief of the port of Calais, the French town across the Channel from Britain, complained to a parliamentary committee this month that “we know there is Brexit but we don’t know exactly what Brexit means.”
“You are not alone,” responded the Conservative chair of the committee, Nicky Morgan.