BoM bankers arrest sets off alarm bells

By NT Bureau Published on Jun 23, 2018 02:12 PM IST

Mumbai: Unanimously condemning the arrest of the Bank of Maharashtra brass, top bankers called for forming an independent committee to give clearances to initiate criminal proceedings against senior bankers.

The unprecedented move comes after the economic offences wing of the Pune police, on Wednesday, arrested the managing director and chief executive officer of Bank of Maharashtra Ravindra Marathe, its executive director Rajendra Gupta, zonal manager Nityanand Deshpande and four other officials along with former chairman Sushil Muhnot in an alleged cheating case lodged against real estate developer D S Kulkarni and his wife.

In an emergency meeting called by the Indian Banks Association (IBA) here, bankers unanimously expressed anguish and concern over the arrests which they described as 'bona fide decisions taken by the BoM officials in extending loans to the scam-tainted developer'.

"Bankers plan to propose to the government that an independent committee, probably with a senior representative from the central bank, be formed for clearance for initiating criminal proceedings against senior bankers. This will ensure smooth functioning of the banking industry and enable decision-making," IBA chief executive V G Kannan told reporters.

He said BoM's senior officials have been arrested for alleged criminal conspiracy and for violating the provisions of the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishment Act of 1999. But this law is not applicable to banks, he added.

"Bankers are not concerned if a company takes deposits from the public, and, therefore, their arrest is unwarranted," Kannan said.

Even the allegation that disbursement of Rs 10 crore in breach of violation of the guidelines and directions given the RBI is incorrect as due process was followed in sanctioning the loans, he claimed.

The State-run lender has said its total outstanding exposure to D S Kulkarni Developers is close to Rs 94.52 crore and is fully secured by primary and collateral securities.

The embattled bank has also said it has already declared the group and its promoters as willful defaulters, and the recovery process is on.

"We feel that the arrest of BoM officials is unwarranted and unfortunate, and has left the entire banking industry concerned and anguished. Bank officials are now worried that genuine banking decisions are being questioned by law enforcement agencies," Kannan added.

He also said bankers, under IBA, will lead a delegation and make a representation to the government.

Senior bankers will meet and present the issues to government officials, seeking a direction to prevent recurrences of such unavoidable incidences.

He also said simultaneous investigations by different authorities reviewing the same decisions of bankers have adversely affected regular banking operations.

Banks are also toying with the idea of taking insurance cover for their senior officials under investigation to help them meet the cost for defending themselves.

Despite such unfortunate incidents, the IBA expressed their willingness to help the industry get credit, saying credit is very critical for them and bankers are committed to provide it.

SHARES TAKE A DIVE

Shares of Bank of Maharashtra extended their fall for the second straight session Thursday after reports that Pune police arrested Chief Executive Officer Ravindra Marathe and executive director of the State-run bank. The scrip plunged as much as 7 per cent to Rs 12.50 in early trade on Thursday.

FOUL PLAY?

Leading bankers suspect some foul play in the arrest of BoM CEO and have hinted at possible political overtones behind the move as it was not even a lead bank that lent funds to real estate developer D S Kulkarni. "More and more bankers come under investigative net without any proof of malfeasance," said the chief executive of a bank who did not want to be identified, according to reports.