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PNB: PNB’s $1.8 billion fraud may affect other banks too

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Punjab National Bank (PNB), the country’s second-biggest state-run bank has
detected a $1.8 billion fraud+
at one of its Mumbai branches, the impact of which could extend to other lenders as well. On Wednesday, the shares of PNB plunged almost 10 per cent on the BSE.

In a filing to the stock exchanges, PNB briefed about the fraud saying that it was “for the benefit of a few select account holders with their apparent connivance”. “Based on these transactions other banks appear to have advanced money to these customers abroad,” it added.

The case poses further questions about the health of India’s banks, which are already grappling with one of the worst bad-loan ratios among big economies. It’s also likely to create a challenge for Chief Executive Officer Sunil Mehta, who took charge last May about a year after PNB and 12 other lenders were fined for violating rules on some $1 billion of foreign-exchange deals.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.

Investigative agencies have been informed about the latest fraud transactions, PNB said. The bank didn’t elaborate on what impact the fraud may have on its finances and it didn’t name the other lenders which could be hurt.

“So far there is no clarity on impact on the lender’s bottom line from this,” said Asutosh Kumar Mishra, a Mumbai-based banking analyst at Reliance Securities Ltd. “There is no clarity on whether these transactions are reversed, whether the bank is holding collateral that could back part of these transactions or whether enforcement authorities will be able to recover this amount.”

The fraudulent transactions are the equivalent of eight times the lender’s 2017 net income of about Rs 1,320 crore, exchange filings show.

It’s also unclear if the fraud is linked to another case PNB had reported earlier this month, where a jeweler allegedly acquired fraudulent letters of undertaking worth Rs 280 crore from PNB in order to obtain loans. At the time PNB had said it’s digging into records to see if the hit is much deeper.

Updated: February 14, 2018 — 11:35 am

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