PNB scam: Will honour bona fide commitments, says bank chief Sunil Mehta

Punjab National Bank (PNB) Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sunil Mehta on Thursday broke his silence on the Rs 114-billion alleged scam involving diamond merchant Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Chinubhai Choksi, saying the public sector bank (PSB) would honour all genuine commitments to other banks.

The PNB chief also said Modi had come up with “vague offers” to repay the amounts due and had not submitted a concrete plan. He added the total exposure of the bank to the two groups of companies involved was around Rs 1.7 billion.

“We will come out of the present situation. We are in discussions with stakeholders, including other banks that are party to this development. We will resolve it and honour all bona fide commitments with other banks,” Mehta said, during a press conference a day after the country’s second-largest PSB made public that it had detected fraudulent and unauthorised transactions.

The PNB chief, however, dodged a query on whether the bank would be liable to pay up the entire Rs 114 billion detected in the fraudulent transactions that took place using the international financial communication system, SWIFT, bypassing the bank’s core banking system with the help of bank staff at a Mumbai PNB branch.

“We are in discussions with all the lenders. It will be decided after the investigation. If the entire onus is on us we are not going back on it, but nobody else can be a beneficiary of this also,” Mehta said. 

The Aayog gave Ghosh and Ghosh access to around 60 gigabytes of EPFO database that included employees’ names, dates of birth, permanent account numbers, provident fund contributions, and industry names, for a period between January 2015 and November 2017.

On November 2 last year, NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar wrote a letter to the EPFO asking it to provide data on new EPF subscribers from April to October 2017. In that communication, Kumar referenced the PMO meeting, held on October 29 last year, where the Aayog was told to “collect and analyse employment data across various sources”.

“The government think tank does not have the wherewithal to work on such massive data. So, it might have delegated it (the survey) to them,” said a senior government official who was part of the meetings that discussed the employment data. 

Using Big Data and machine learning tools, Ghosh and Ghosh worked on the sample data first (for the April-October 2017 period) before gaining access to the bigger database to conduct their final survey. Pulak Ghosh is an expert on Big Data and was also part of the advisory group on Big Data at the United Nations.

The EPFO data centre provided the entire database of its subscribers to the Aayog on November 29 last year, for the period between January 2015 and October 2017.

A senior EPFO official said, “We gave the data to the Aayog, which is a government entity. We did not know there was a survey being undertaken based on our data.” The data was not meant to be shared with private citizens, he added.

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