September 30, 2019 / 8:26 PM / 18 days ago

Indian police probe management of co-operative bank

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian officials registered a police complaint against the senior management of Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank (PMC) on Monday for hiding non-performing assets and disbursing loans that led to a loss of 43.55 billion rupees ($616.5 million) for the lender, a police official said.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks out from a PMC (Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative) Bank branch in Mumbai, India, September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

The complaint, which names the bank’s Chairman Waryam Singh and its Managing Director Joy Thomas, was filed with the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Mumbai Police, according to the police official and a statement seen by Reuters. It also names bankrupt realty company Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited (HDIL) and its Chairman Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan, who were beneficiaries of the loans.

A special team has been formed to investigate the case, police added.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) last week took charge of the bank and suspended Thomas and the bank’s board after uncovering lending irregularities at the bank, which has been barred from renewing, or granting any loans, or making investments without prior approval of the RBI.

The police complaint against PMC and HDIL officials was filed at the behest of an administrator, whom the RBI appointed last week to oversee the bank’s operations while it probes the lender. The RBI has placed curbs on withdrawals from PMC, prompting protests among thousands of PMC’s depositors, whose funds have been largely frozen.

The complaint alleges that the PMC and HDIL officials purposely misled the RBI for over a decade from 2008 to August 2019 by failing to disclose big accounts that had become non-performing assets by producing forged audit reports.

Indian media outlets on Sunday reported that PMC’s exposure to bankrupt HDIL stood at 65 billion rupees, which accounts for 73% of its overall 88.8 billion loan book - well above the RBI’s permissible exposure levels to a single entity.

PMC and HDIL did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The RBI said it had no comment.

The PMC case has sparked renewed concerns about the health of India’s troubled banking sector, which has been rocked by a multi-billion dollar fraud at a state-run lender, the collapse of a major infrastructure lender, bad loan issues at state-run banks and a liquidity squeeze that has hit shadow lenders.

More than two dozen co-operative banks are now under RBI administration, but PMC Bank - with deposits of 116.2 billion rupees as of March 31 - and among the top five co-operative banks in the country, is by far the largest to be hit by such RBI measures.

India has more than 1,500 small urban co-operative banks that typically service small local communities in certain districts or states. Depositors at co-operative banks are in a relatively higher risk zone, but tens of thousands still bank with these lenders as they typically offer better interest rates on deposits.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Nupur Anand; Editing by Euan Rocha and Giles Elgood

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