Corruption at regulator? Irdai member aided, abetted graft, says SAT

The Securities and Appellate Tribunal (SAT) has set aside an order passed by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) in a case filed by UK-based Atkins Special Risks, an insurance broker, and said the insurance regulator’s member P J  Joseph “aided and abetted” corruption. 

The tribunal has directed Irdai to entrust the matter to an officer other than Joseph for passing a fresh order. “In our opinion, the order passed by P J Joseph, member (non-life), Irdai, on January 9 which, in our opinion, is passed in gross abuse of the process of law and dereliction of duty,” said Justice J P Devadhar, presiding officer, SAT. 

The case pertains to appellant Atkins Special Risks, a specialised risk insurance and re-insurance with core competency in marine and energy insurance. Between 2002 and 2012, the company had provided international re-insurance cover to Jagson International on yearly commission of 27.5 per cent of the premium that was paid for the cover. 

From 2010, Jagdish Gupta, chairman of Jagson International, started demanding a cut from the commission earned by Atkins (appellant), which the latter refused. Later, in 2012, the re-insurance business of Jagson was taken away from the appellant and given to Marsh India Insurance Brokers. 

The appellant had then called for a detailed investigation by a global investigating firm. “Reports submitted by that firm (Atkins) confirmed that kickbacks were given to Jagdish Gupta by Marsh for diverting the reinsurance business from the appellant to Marsh,” the SAT order noted. 

The SAT in the order said the appellant had filed a complaint with Irdai in August 2015 but no action was taken. Atkins then filed a writ petition in the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court, which directed the insurance regulator to consider the plea of Atkins. 

The matter was heard by Joseph who took a decision to dispose of the complaint, stating that Atkins had not submitted any documentary proof, material information or evidence in support of its contention. 

“Perusal of the complaint filed by the appellant clearly shows that the appellant had relied on documentary evidences in support of the contention that Gupta had sought bribe and was bribed by officers of Marsh for diverting the re-insurance business from the appellant to Marsh,” the SAT noted. 

It further said that to hold that Atkins had not submitted any documentary proof would be totally false. “We fail to understand as to how a member (non-life) could make such false statements in the impunged order. In our opinion, the impunged order passed by Joseph virtually amounts to aiding and abetting corruption in the insurance business by the regulator, which cannot be tolerated,” the SAT said in its March 16 order.

The appellate tribunal, however, said that the said judgment made it clear that the SAT has not expressed any opinion on the merit of the complaint filed by appellant. 

Atkins in its complaint with Irdai had provided specific dates on which Gupta had sent emails demanding kickbacks. It was also alleged that during a telephonic conversation, Gupta had told Atkins that Marsh had agreed to pay him $400,000 (~26 million) in order to obtain Jagson’s re-insurance business. 

The complaint argued that in view of evidence gathered as also the third party evidence regarding kickbacks, “it is apparent that Indian Insurance Act and Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Insurance Brokers) Regulations have been violated.”

In an email response to Business Standard's queries, a Marsh India spokesperson said that SAT had not passed any order against the firm. The spokesperson said, "Marsh India conducts its business with honesty, integrity and in accordance with the law. We strongly deny any wrongdoing and find the complaint, filed by the competing broker who lost the business to Marsh India, as baseless and without merit." He also added that as a responsible corporate, Marsh India has fully assisted the regulatory authorities with relevant information at our disposal, whenever required and we will continue to do so."

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