CBI widens PNB fraud probe to include bank’s top brass

New Delhi: Trouble is mounting for Punjab National Bank (PNB) with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) widening the probe into the Rs11,400 crore fraud at the lender to include the top brass.

CBI late on Tuesday night arrested a general manager or GM rank officer of PNB, Rajesh Jindal, who held the charge of branch head at the PNB Brady House branch, Mumbai, from August 2009 to May 2011, the investigation agency revealed on Wednesday morning.

“During his tenure at PNB Brady House branch, the practice of issuance of LoUs (letters of undertaking) without sanctioned limits to Nirav Modi group firms had started. He is presently posted as GM Credit, PNB Head Office, New Delhi,” the CBI said on Wednesday.

CBI also confirmed on Tuesday that 10 more officials of the public sector lender, including the bank’s executive directors, were being questioned, without giving out their names.

Additionally, the agency is also questioning eight executives belonging to the Nirav Modi jewellery group and 10 from Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali group. Modi and Choksi, who are absconding, are wanted for questioning.

On Tuesday evening, CBI made five fresh arrests. It confirmed that it hadarrested Vipul Ambani, president (finance) of the Firestar International diamonds group belonging to Nirav Modi. Ambani was questioned by CBI on Monday. It also arrested Kavita Mankikar, executive assistant of the group and Arjun Patil, a senior executive at Firestar.

In Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali group, the agency arrested Kapil Khandelwal, chief finance officer of the Nakshatra group and Gitanjali group, along with Niten Shahi, a manager at Gitanjali group.

The agency confirmed that searches were also being conducted on Tuesday at Nirav Modi’s farmhouse in Alibaug, close to Mumbai.

Income tax (IT) officials also searched 20 premises in Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Hyderabad and Bengaluru on Tuesday.

While a total of five PNB officials have been arrested so far by the CBI, agency sleuths said the probe was “going to be thorough and foolproof.”

“We are currently questioning 10 officials of PNB, including its executive directors. We cannot disclose whether they are existing or past executive directors or their names. Questioning is also underway for 18 executives across the Nirav Modi and Gitanjali groups,” said a senior CBI official, on condition of anonymity.

Late on Monday night, CBI arrested three more PNB officers from the Brady House branch in Mumbai. They were named as Bechhu Tiwari, chief manager in charge of the forex department; Yashwant Joshi, a manager in the same department; and export officer Praful Sawant.

On Tuesday evening, a special CBI court in Mumbai sent Tiwari, Joshi and Sawant to police custody until 3 March. “Tiwari is responsible for supervising the work of Gokulnath Shetty and his manager to ensure entry of authorised SWIFT messages only from the system. Joshi is responsible for supervising Shetty and ensuring daily reports of SWIFT and CBS entries while Sawant is responsible for checking the SWIFT messages daily and reporting,” a CBI official confirmed, on Monday.

On Tuesday, the agency confirmed that “significant documents had been recovered from the premises searched in connection with Monday night’s arrest.”

Emails sent to PNB remained unanswered, while emails sent to the Nirav Modi group bounced back and the Gitanjali group declined to comment on the matter. On Saturday, CBI had arrested Gokulnath Shetty, a former deputy manager at PNB, Manoj Kharat, a single-window operator at the bank, and Hemant Bhat, the authorized signatory of the Nirav Modi group. On Monday, the agency questioned four other officials from the Nirav Modi group—chief financial officer Ravi Gupta, vice-president (finance) Vipul Ambani, president of the Nirav Modi group’s international finance division Saurabh Sharma and Subhash Parab, a senior finance executive of the Nirav Modi group.

In its most recent complaint to CBI on 13 February, PNB, admitting the involvement of some of its officials, said, “They have fraudulently issued letters of undertaking (LoUs), without following the bank’s prescribed procedures… and without making entries in the banking system, avoiding detection of the transactions… transmitted SWIFT instructions to the overseas branches of Indian banks under buyer’s credit.”livemint