Gem of a scam: On PNB fraud
The PNB fraud must be speedily investigated to restore faith in the banking system
A regulatory filing to the stock exchanges by Punjab National Bank has blown the lid (ढक्कन) off a ₹11,500-crore fraud. Perhaps the largest such scam in India, it was perpetrated (पाप या दोष करना) by a maverick (अपरंपरागत ) diamond merchant in collusion (कूटसंविद) with bank officials at a single branch in South Mumbai. For India’s second largest bank to be defrauded in the manner suggested is astounding (चौंका देने वाला), especially since there has been heightened scrutiny (अनुसंधान) of public sector banks’ operations in the last few years. The bank’s audit committees and boards, as well as the central bank, which conducts routine financial inspections of banks’ books, have been ostensibly (प्रकट रूप से) keeping a close watch on the loans that have turned substandard or are on the verge of default. The government, which has often blamed the pile of bad loans on crony (घनिष्ठ मित्र) capitalism during the UPA regime, just last month unveiled a plan to infuse about ₹1 lakh crore into 21 capital-starved public sector banks this fiscal. Of this, ₹5,473 crore is to be injected into PNB. So even if the actual loss the bank ends up incurring on account of this fraud is half the stated amount, its capital adequacy ratio will be back to the same level before the recapitalisation was announced. Its market capitalisation has tanked ₹8,077 crore over the past two days, with the share price falling over 20% since the news broke.
The bank’s top brass has said it has acted promptly, suspending around 10 officials. The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked one retired and one serving PNB employee so far. It is also difficult to believe that a handful of junior employees could orchestrate (गुप्त रूप से आयोजित करना) such a massive fraud. The bank’s managing director has claimed that supervisory lapses are being probed, and the Enforcement Directorate has initiated a money laundering case against the main accused, billionaire-jeweller Nirav Modi, his wife Ami Modi and close associates and relatives. The firms run by him had seen a meteoric (उल्का से उत्पन्न) rise and an IPO was in the offing after buyouts of global players and a ramp-up of retail presence in India and abroad. It appears that the bank employees who assisted in the fraud routed large transactions for the borrowers by circumventing (ठगना) the core banking solution. This flies in the face of the government’s push for a digital payment economy. PNB has sought to blame overseas branches of other banks for not undertaking due diligence (अविराम) before accepting such transactions, but that may be too simplistic an explanation. An inquiry by the RBI must get to the bottom of the systemic lapses in this affair and fix accountability across the chain of command. The banker-borrower nexus (सांठ-गांठ) has been blamed for problems in the banking system for years. This episode will set off fears of a nexus deeper than imagined. The RBI and investigating agencies should act speedily to restore trust in the banking system.
- Lid: a piece placed over an open container to hold in, protect, or conceal its contents
Synonyms: cap, cover, top
- Perpetrated: to carry through (as a process) to completion
Synonyms: accomplish, achieve, bring off, carry off, carry out, commit, compass, do, execute, follow through (with), fulfill (or fulfil), make, negotiate, perform, prosecute, pull off, put through
Antonyms: skimp, slight, slur, fail
- Maverick: deviating from commonly accepted beliefs or practices
Synonyms: dissentient, dissenting, dissident, heterodox, iconoclastic, heretical, nonconformist, nonorthodox, out-there, unconventional, unorthodox
Antonyms: conforming, conformist, conventional, orthodox
- Collusion: a secret agreement or cooperation between two parties for an illegal or dishonest purpose
Synonyms: complicity, connivance, conspiracy
- Astounding: causing a strong emotional reaction because of unexpectedness
Synonyms: amazing, astonishing, surprising, blindsiding, dumbfounding (also dumfounding), eye-opening, flabbergasting, jarring, jaw-dropping, jolting, shocking, startling, stunning, stupefying
Antonyms: common, customary, mundane, normal, ordinary, typical, unexceptional, unremarkable, usual, unsurprising, boring, dull, jading, monotonous, tedious, tiring, uninspired, uninteresting, wearisome, weary, wearying
- Scrutiny: a close look at or over someone or something in order to judge condition
Synonyms: audit, check, checkup, examination, going-over, look-see, review, scan, inspection, survey, view
Antonyms: oeillade, ogle, browse, scan
- Ostensibly: to all outward appearances
Synonyms: evidently, apparently, ostensively, presumably, putatively, seemingly, supposedly
Antonyms: implausibly, impossibly, improbably, incredibly
- Crony: a person frequently seen in the company of another
Synonyms: cohort, companion, compatriot, compeer, comrade, associate, fellow, hobnobber, mate, running mate
Antonyms: adversary, antagonist, competitor, opponent, rival, archenemy, nemesis
- Orchestrate: Plan or coordinate the elements of (a situation) to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously.
Synonyms: organize, arrange, put together, plan, set up, bring about, manage, mobilize, mount, stage, stage-manage, mastermind, choreograph, coordinate, direct, engineer
- Meteoric: (of the development of something) very rapid.
- Circumventing: to avoid having to comply with (something) especially through cleverness
Synonyms: beat, bypass, dodge, get around, shortcut, sidestep, skirt
Antonyms: comply (with), follow, keep, obey, observe
- Diligence: attentive and persistent effort
Synonyms: assiduity, assiduousness, industriousness, industry, sedulity, sedulousness
Antonyms: carelessness, negligence, slackness, idleness, indolence, laziness
- Nexus: a series of things linked together
Synonyms: catena, catenation, concatenation, consecution, chain, progression, sequence, string, train
Change of guard: On Jacob Zuma’s ouster
Jacob Zuma’s exit as South Africa’s President must lead to an institutional clean-up
Jacob Zuma’s resignation as South Africa’s President brings an opportunity to start cleaning up its government and institutions. The ‘Teflon’ president, a moniker (मुँह-बोला नाम) the 75-year-old earned for his survival skills, finally gave in to weeks of pressure from his own party, the African National Congress, ending an almost nine-year-long, scandal-hit presidency marred by hundreds of allegations and charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Despite having survived eight no-confidence motions, Mr. Zuma had little choice this time as his own party asked him to resign, with ANC legislators looking inclined towards even a no-confidence motion against him in parliament. The growing pressure on Mr. Zuma was also visible on some of those who allegedly colluded (साँठ-गाँठ करना) with him, notably the India-born Gupta brothers whose home in the swish Saxonwold suburb (निकास) of Johannesburg was raided by the police on Wednesday. The trio — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta — whose business interests range from mining to media and technology have been accused of using their ties with Mr. Zuma to enable “state capture” by possessing inside information, influencing ministerial appointments and swinging multimillion-dollar state contracts. The timing of the raids was hardly a coincidence. The ANC is only too aware of the need to get its house in order before the 2019 general election. Putting Mr. Zuma through a no-confidence motion would have further exposed a party that went from leading South Africa out of apartheid (रंगभेद नीति) to administering a system and country characterised by high levels of inequality and corruption and a flagging economy, with 30% unemployment and low growth.
The way is now clear for the reformist (सुधारवादी) veteran Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President. He has been a trade union leader, a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement and a close associate of Nelson Mandela. He led the effort to draft the country’s new constitution in 1994 and was an MP in the first post-apartheid parliament. With the ANC choosing Thabo Mbeki as Mandela’s successor in 1999, Mr. Ramaphosa’s presidential ambitions were dashed, and he focussed on his businesses instead — today, he is one of South Africa’s wealthiest black businessmen. In December, he won a close and bitter contest against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr. Zuma’s ex-wife, to become ANC’s leader, and has now been given a shot at leading South Africa. Mr. Ramaphosa has spoken of a new phase and about prioritising the economy. This, in addition to his background in politics and business, gives reason to believe that South Africa has a significant opportunity for a change in direction and speed. However, whether and to what extent the new leadership will allow the law to independently take its course with regard to Mr. Zuma remains to be seen.
- Moniker: a descriptive or familiar name given instead of or in addition to the one belonging to an individual
Synonyms: alias, byname, cognomen, epithet, handle, nickname (also monicker), sobriquet (also soubriquet), surname
- Suburb: An outlying district of a city, especially a residential one.
- Apartheid: (in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.
Synonyms: prejudice, bias, bigotry, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, unfairness, inequity, favouritism, one-sidedness, partisanship
- Reformist: Supporting or advancing gradual reform rather than abolition or revolution.
Synonyms: modern, liberal, advanced, forward-looking, forward-thinking, go-ahead, enlightened, enterprising, innovative, up-and-coming, new, dynamic, avant-garde, modernistic, disruptive
- no-confidence motion: A motion of no confidence, is a vote on whether a group of people still has confidence in a government or leader. This is mainly a statement or vote which states that a person in a superior position, be it government, managerial, etc., is no longer deemed fit to hold that position.