Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday defended five years taken to file the first fraud complaint in the Rs 22,842 loan default by Gujarat-based ABG Shipyard, saying the time taken to detect the fraud was less than normal.
She said the loans were given under the Congress-led UPA regime and the account became a non-performing asset (NPA) in November 2013 and the debt was restructured in March 2014 by all lenders but it could not be recused.
Opposition Congress has accused those sitting in the highest echelons of power in the Narendra Modi government of complicity, collusion and connivance in what it described as "India's biggest bank fraud" - Rs 22,842 crore being bigger than the Rs 14,000 crore PNB scam by Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi.
Asserting that a bank follows a certain process to declare an account fraud, Ms Sitharaman said banks almost take 52-54 months to complete intensive work before a decision is taken.
"In this particular case (ABG Shipyard)...I should say to the credit to the banks, they've taken lesser than what is normally an average time to detect these kinds of frauds...Normally, it takes I said 56 months and off-late it is taking far lesser time to detect such things," she said after customary post budget address to RBI board members here.
State Bank of India (SBI) in a statement on Sunday had stated that the loans given to ABG Shipyard had become NPA on November 30, 2013, but after a failed debt restructuring, it was "classified as NPA in July 2016 with backdated effect from November 30, 2013." Congress has questioned why the government took five years after the liquidation proceedings of ABG Shipyard to lodge an FIR in connection with the alleged duping of 28 banks.
According to SBI, the first complaint was filed with CBI in November 2019 and "a fresh and comprehensive second complaint was filed in December 2020." E&Y was appointed as forensic auditor by lenders in April 2018 and they submitted their report in January 2019. E&Y report was placed before the Fraud Identification Committee of 18 lenders in 2019. Fraud is mainly attributed to diversion of funds, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust.
"I am sitting in RBI premises, so I don't want to talk too much of politics, but I am sorry the kind of noise coming biggest 'ghotala' in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's time. Not at all. This was a loan given well prior to 2013 and it had become even an NPA by 2013. So people dig holes into which they themselves fall," the finance minister said.
"They made the noise, not realising that it was all then (UPA regime) and we have taken lesser time to detect it take action...So action is happening here like the way it happened for every other major bank defaults," Ms Sitharaman said.
Talking about the health of the banking sector, the finance minister said it has improved and all the public sector banks have done well.