ICICI,Axis,HDFC Bank start probe into ‘laundering’ charges

The RBI is also looking into the issue.

Written by ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | Published: March 15, 2013 1:14:42 am

The country’s top three private banks — HDFC Bank,ICICI Bank and Axis Bank — said on Thursday that they have initiated internal investigations into allegations of “money laundering” levelled by a web portal against a number of their employees.

The allegations were made by web portal Cobrapost after it allegedly conducted a sting operation and played the purported video recording of officials of the three banks seemingly agreeing to receive unverified sums of cash and put them in their investment schemes and ‘benami’ accounts,in violation of anti-money laundering laws. However,no account was opened nor any cash deposited.

While finance minister P Chidambaram said that two of the three banks have denied charges,the income tax department has initiated a probe over the issue. CBDT member (investigations) KV Chowdary said in Mumbai that the department has “taken cognizance of the issue and have begun a probe.”

The RBI is also looking into the issue. “RBI is collecting the information and is in touch with the banks,” said Urjit Patel,deputy governor,RBI.

ICICI Bank’s spokesperson said,“We are deeply concerned with the media reports. We want to assure our customers and all stakeholders that we are committed towards adherence to the high standards of business conduct. We have constituted a high level inquiry committee to investigate into the matter and submit its findings in two weeks.”

Meanwhile,Axis Bank said that the systems and processes in the bank are “robust and fully compliant with extant regulations”. “We will examine whatever information that is brought to our notice and investigate thoroughly… Any deviations to such (corporate governance) standards are viewed very seriously.”

HDFC Bank said that it is concerned over the allegations and “the matter is being investigated on top priority”.

Chidambaram said he had spoken to chief of two of the banks who told him that “this is a completely incorrect story”. “They will issue statement by the end of the day and send me a copy. Both denied it and the third chairperson is out of the country,” he said.

According to industry players,for a branch manager of a bank,a customer willing to put in a large tranche of money is a potential business opportunity to achieve targets. At the most,he can accept his investments in cash while reporting it to Financial Intelligence Unit — the government agency that reports the same to the I-T department — as a “suspicious” transaction.

ICICI Bank follows a system of Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD),whereby a branch official has to put in certain basic fact checks about a customer looking to open an account. Without the EDD nod,the account cannot be opened.

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