Mumbai -To fix whistleblower, bank moves from verse to worse


ALOK DESHPANDE, The Hindu, June 13, 2013 

Embarrassed by revelations about its curious dealings with corporate clients, the Bank of Maharashtra has declared war on whistleblowers. File photo
The Hindu–Embarrassed by revelations about its curious dealings with corporate clients, the Bank of Maharashtra has declared war on whistleblowers. File photo

Union leader Devidas Tuljapurkar faces victimisation and possible dismissal by the Bank of Maharashtra, as it suspects him of being the whistleblower behind a story in “The Hindu” on July 7, 2012.

For one unfortunate whistleblower, things have gone from verse to worse. Embarrassed by revelations about its curious dealings with corporate clients, the Bank of Maharashtra has declared war on whistleblowers. And since it can’t pinpoint them, the bank has gone after internal critics on novel grounds. It has chargesheeted a Union leader and ex-Director of the BoM for acts “prejudicial to the interests of the Bank.” That is, for publishing 19 years ago, a poem it calls ‘vulgar and obscene,’ in the Union’s in-house magazine, ‘Bulletin.’ That poem is the basis of the Bank’s charge sheet against a worker with an impeccable service record.

In 1984, the Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar wrote a satirical poem titledGandhi Mala Bhetla Hota (Gandhi met me) which shook the literary world with its polemical content. In 2013, Devidas Tuljapurkar, General Secretary of the All-India Bank of Maharashtra Employees Federation, faces victimisation and possible dismissal by the bank, ostensibly because the Bulletin, of which he was editor, carried that poem in 1994!

The real reasons for going after Mr. Tuljapurkar appear to have little to do with poetry and seem far more prosaic. He has been a thorn in the flesh of his management. Both, as an alert employee and, for a while, as Workman Director on the bank’s Board. He has also drawn the RBI’s attention to the BoM’s odd handling of some corporate accounts and advances which, he charges, are being favoured at the expense of BoM’s main depositors — lakhs of small farmers, working people and retired employees. But the BoM leadership has something more against him. They suspect him — with no basis or proof — of being the whistleblower behind a story in The Hindu, July 7, 2012. That story exposed how the bank had granted a Rs. 150-crore loan to a defaulter owing BoM Rs. 40 crore by greatly weakening the terms of the original sanction letter. The defaulter company was a part of the United Breweries (UB) group headed by Vijay Mallya. The expose embarrassed Bank Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Narendra Singh, sparking a whistleblower witch-hunt.

But no whistleblower was found. And after several transfers of senior officers within the bank, the search hit a dead-end. Ironically, it was an unthinking action of the Reserve Bank of India that handed the BoM management a scapegoat: Devidas Tuljapurkar.

Mr. Tuljapurkar told The Hindu, “Last October, I wrote a letter to RBI Governor D. Subba Rao highlighting questionable corporate advances and imprudent banking decisions of BoM at the instance of CMD Narendra Singh.” The letter, written in his capacity as a Union leader, was backed up with facts and documents. Having served as a Director on the Board of BoM from 2004 to 2009, he was very familiar with the rules and procedures.

However, the RBI failed to protect his identity as a whistleblower. In one of those unthinking acts of bureaucracy, the RBI routinely forwarded Mr. Tuljapurkar’s letter to the very BoM management that it exposed, for their comments. The bank had found its scapegoat and Mr. Tuljapurkar’s ordeal began. “Since I had written a letter to RBI, the management assumed that it was also I who had leaked that story about gifting a Rs. 150-crore loan to Mallya’s company. They wanted to corner me, so they started scanning my history,” he says.

And all they could come up with was a poem from 1984. Vasant Gurjar’s poem is a political satire that is scathing about the followers of Mahatma Gandhi who, in the poet’s view, were merely serving their own interests. In 1994, the poem was published in the ‘Bulletin’ the house magazine of the Union. In March 1995, an organisation called the ‘Patit Pavan Sanghatana’ filed a complaint against the Bulletin for publishing the ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’ poem. As editor of the Bulletin, Mr. Tuljapurkar was made an accused in the case.

This May 3, 19 years later, the BoM management issued an internal charge sheet against Mr. Tuljapurkar. It accuses him of ‘publishing such an inflammatory, vulgar, obscene and objectionable material in the magazine “Bulletin” meant for bank employees …” And claims that circulating that issue of the Bulletin on the BoM’s premises (in 1994) was “prejudicial to the interests of the Bank.”

Interestingly, the ‘State Performances Scrutiny Board, Government of Maharashtra’, headed by well-known Marathi poet F.M. Shinde, has a very different take on the poem. In January 2011 the Scrutiny Board made it clear that the poem is neither obscene nor vulgar. “What Gandhi had envisioned about Swarajya is nowhere to be seen. The poet has expressed this in satirical form,” Mr. Shinde had said.

Apart from ignoring the Board’s view, the BoM seems to take no notice of the Supreme Court’s order in the case against Mr. Tuljapurkar. “After the FIR in 1995, we approached both the sessions court and the High Court to discharge me from the case. But that was rejected and our appeal is pending in the Supreme Court,” he says. “The apex court, in its order dated July 7, 2010, stayed all proceedings in lower courts in this case and the actual trial has not even started in any court.”

The charge sheet accuses Mr. Tuljapurkar of not disclosing this pending litigation against him while serving as the Workman Director of the bank and for knowingly making ‘false statements’ in the forms of the bank. BoM CMD Narendra Singh took personal interest in the entire matter, says Mr. Tuljapurkar. The CMD placed the 19-year old case before the board meeting in January this year, recommending action against the union leader.

All this sidesteps the truth that Mr. Tuljapurkar’s name was mentioned in the FIR as editor of the Bulletin and not in any ‘personal capacity.’ It also ignores the fact that even charges in the case are yet to be framed. Calls, faxes and emails from The Hindu to Mr. Singh have so far drawn no response.

Meanwhile, an outraged All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA), to which Mr. Tuljapurkar’s union is affiliated, has called for an agitation across the entire BoM on June 17. “We demand immediate withdrawal of the charge sheet slapped against him and thorough investigation of loans sanctioned by the bank to various corporates ever since the present chairman took charge,” CH. Venkatachalam, General Secretary, AIBEA, told The Hindu. He added that the BoM being a public sector bank, every citizen had a right to express concern about its financial health. “We shall fight back any attempt at victimisation.”

If the departmental inquiry against Mr. Tuljapurkar proceeds the way bank management wants, it could result in his dismissal. A whistleblower exposing the questionable actions of a public sector bank could be dismissed for publishing a poem in 1994. He is also a man who, while a director of the bank, transferred all the money he received as sitting charges for Board meetings to the Union’s account via cheque, accepting no monetary benefits as a director.

“I wrote to RBI because I found Mr. Singh’s financial moves unhealthy for the bank’s future. Hence I’m being targeted and victimised. They aim to make an example of me so nobody in future will dare raise his voice. It has to be stopped,” he said.

 

Global media investigation finds 612 Indians among thousands with firms in tax havens


 

Icij-reporters-, Ritu-sarin : New Delhi, Washington | Apr 04, 2013, IE

BM

In the biggest global expose of its kind on offshore investments and secret financial transactions, an international group of investigative journalists has found details of more than 1.2 lakh offshore entities and trusts belonging to individuals and companies in more than 170 countries and territories, including India.

These individuals and companies include politicians, the mega rich and tax offenders, among others, who have invested in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands, Samoa and other offshore hideaways.

The 612 Indians in this list include two members of Parliament — Lok Sabha Congress MP Vivekanand Gaddam and RS member Vijay Mallya — and several industrialists such as Ravikant Ruia, Samir Modi, Chetan Burman, Abhey Kumar Oswal, Rahul Mammen Mappillai, Teja Raju, Saurabh Mittal and Vinod Doshi.

The list also includes businessmen who have had a brush with authorities such as the Income-Tax department and the CBI. Several of the offshore investments were made in possible violation of RBI and FEMA rules.

Details of these transactions were contained in 2.5 million secret files and accounted for more than 260 gigabytes of data. They were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and their total size is more than 160 times larger than the leak of the US State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010.

Based in Washington DC, ICIJ (www.icij.org) is an independent network of reporters who work together on cross-border investigations.

ICIJ collaborated with 38 media organisations around the world, including the The Indian Express, for this ambitious global project and to analyse the documents. The other media partners include The Washington Post in the US, The Guardian and BBC in Britain, Le Monde in France and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The secret files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe. They represent the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organisation.

Besides several well-known Indians, the lists include American doctors and dentists, middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, East European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives and international arms dealers.

These people used international financial services providers such as the Portcullis Trustnet (PTN) of Singapore and the Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL) in the British Virgin Islands to register offshore companies in tax havens. PTN and CTL, it has been found, have helped tens of thousands of people set up off-shore companies, personal financial trusts and hard-to-trace bank accounts.

Anti-corruption campaigners argue that offshore secrecy undermines law and order and forces average citizens to pay higher taxes to make up for revenues that vanish offshore. The stolen asset recovery initiative, a programme of the Wold Bank and the United Nations, has estimated that cross-border flows of global proceeds of financial crimes total between $1 trillion and $ 1.6 trillion a year.

On the other hand, offshore defenders counter that most offshore patrons are engaged in legitimate business transactions. Offshore centres, they say, allow companies and individuals to diversify their investments, force commercial alliances across national borders and do business in entrepreneur-friendly zones that eschew the heavy rules and redtape of the onshore world.

The 15-month long investigation has found that alongside perfectly legal transactions, the secrecy and lax oversight offered by the offshore world allows fraud, tax dodging and political corruption to thrive. The expose has also thrown light on the functioning of “nominee directors’’ in offshore companies, several of whom have also been engaged by Indian patrons of offshore companies.

For instance, a cluster of 28 “sham directors’’ have been identified as having served as the on-paper representatives of more than 21,000 companies between them, with some individual directors representing as many as 4,000 companies each.

The expose comes shortly after a list of 18 Indians who had bank accounts in the LGT Liechtenstein Bank and around 700 Indians who had accounts in HSBC in Geneva became public. In both cases, account holders were prosecuted and paid penalties to Income-Tax authorities for deposits they had made abroad without paying taxes in India.

Incidentally, India had signed a double taxation treaty called the Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the BVI in 2011 to check tax evasion and money laundering from the tax haven. Finance ministry officials said that similar agreements are in the process of being drafted with the Cook Islands and Samoa.

While the Liberalized Remittance Scheme 2012 permits Indians to deposit up to $200,000 abroad annually, the RBI has made it clear that this does not include deposits in tax havens. “As yet, the $200,000 facility for remittances abroad is not applicable for individuals to open accounts or companies in tax havens,” a RBI spokesperson told The Indian Express.

Auditors said the legality of holding offshore accounts and registering offshore companies is complex. The RBI restriction on individuals incorporating companies abroad, they said, can be easily circumvented if an offshore company is first incorporated and the shareholding then transfered to the beneficial owner.

In the cases under scrunity, documents show that both patterns have been followed. The date of incorporation and the date of the patrons being appointed shareholders/directors is either identical — which is a violation of RBI guidelines — or is a month or so later. If it is the latter, these individuals can say they just acquired shares of an offshore company.

However, with individuals debarred from using LRS for setting up companies, even the remittance dispatched by them for setting up an offshore entity can be a violation. Under rules of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), the use of the offshore route to bring in FDI is also prohibitted and is a violation of Section 8 of the act.

There is also a restraint on individuals setting up offshore companies without the prior approval of the RBI.

MEGA BYTES

* 15-month investigation based on 260 GB data in 2.5 million secret files including 2 million emails covering nearly 30 years

* Data had details of over 1.2 lakh offshore firms/trusts and 12,000 agents

* Owners, benefactors of offshore accounts spread across more than 170 countries, territories

* 86 ICIJ journalists from 38 media organisations in 46 countries collaborated in investigation

* Data found 28 ‘sham directors’ who together represented 21,000 firms

 

 

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