In April 1992, press reports indicated that there was a shortfall in the Government Securities held by the State Bank of India. Investigations uncovered the tip of an iceberg, later called the securities scam, involving misappropriation of funds to the tune of over Rs. 3500 Crores. The scam engulfed top executives of large nationalized banks, foreign banks and financial institutions, brokers, bureaucrats and politicians: The functioning of the money market and the stock market was thrown in disarray. The tainted shares were worthless as they could not be sold. This created a panic among investors and brokers and led to a prolonged closure of the stock exchanges along with a precipitous drop in the price of shares. Soon after the discovery of the scam, the stock prices dropped by over 40%, wiping out market value to the tune of Rs. 100,000 crores. The normal settlement process in government securities was that the transacting banks made payments and delivered the securities directly to each other. The broker’s only function was to bring the buyer and seller together. During the scam, however, the banks or at least some banks adopted an alternative settlement process similar to settlement of stock market transactions. The deliveries of securities and payments were made through the broker. That is, the seller handed over the securities to the broker who passed them on to the buyer, while the buyer gave the cheque to the broker who then made the payment to the seller. There were two important reasons why the broker intermediated settlement began to be used in the government securities markets:
- The brokers instead of merely bringing buyers and sellers together started taking positions in the market. They in a sense imparted greater liquidity to the markets.
- When a bank wanted to conceal the fact that it was doing an Ready Forward deal, the broker came in handy. The broker provided contract notes for this purpose with fictitious counterparties, but arranged for the actual settlement to take place with the correct counterparty. This allowed the broker to lay his hands on the cheque as it went from one bank to another through him. The hurdle now was to find a way of crediting the cheque to his account though it was drawn in favour of a bank and was crossed account payee. It is purely a matter of banking custom that an account payee cheque is paid only to the payee mentioned on the cheque. In fact, privileged (corporate) customers were routinely allowed to credit account payee cheques in favour of a bank into their own accounts to avoid clearing delays, thereby reducing the interest lost on the amount. The brokers thus found a way of getting hold of the cheques as they went from one bank to another and crediting the amounts to their accounts. This effectively transformed an RF into a loan to a broker rather than to a bank. But this, by itself, would not have led to the scam because the RF after all is a secured loan, and a secured loan to a broker is still secured. What was necessary now was to find a way of eliminating the security itself.
Three routes adopted for this purpose were:
- Some banks (or rather their officials) were persuaded to part with cheques without actually receiving securities in return. A simple explanation of this is that the officials concerned were bribed and/or negligent. Alternatively, as long as the scam lasted, the banks benefited from such an arrangement. The management of banks might have been sorely tempted to adopt this route to higher profitability.
- The second route was to replace the actual securities by a worthless piece of paper – a fake Bank Receipt (BR). A BR like an IOU has only the borrower’s assurance that the borrower has the securities which can/will be delivered if/when the need arises.
- The third method was simply to forge the securities themselves. In many cases, PSU bonds were represented only by allotment letters rather than certificates on security paper. However, it accounted for only a very small part of the total funds misappropriated. During the scam, the brokers perfected the art of using fake BRs to obtain unsecured loans from the banking system. They persuaded some small and little known banks – the Bank of Karad (BOK) and the Metropolitan Cooperative Bank (MCB) – to issue BRs as and when required. These BRs could then be used to do RF deals with other banks. The cheques in favour of BOK were, of course, credited into the brokers’ accounts. In effect, several large banks made huge unsecured loans to the BOK/MCB which in turn made the money available to the brokers.
Securities Scam 2001
In Spite of the recommendations made by the Janakiraman Committee Report in 1992 to prevent security scams from happening in the future another security market took place in 2001. This involved the actions of one major player by the name of Ketan Parekh. He manipulated a large amount of funds in the capital market though a number of his own companies which is probably why the scam remained a mystery for quite some time the RBI,SEBI and DCA(Department Of Company affairs) had gone slack in their regulatory operations.During 1999 and 2000 the SENSEX reached a high and after than the stock market crashed in 2001.Some of the major companies he invested in were Nirma, Adani Group, Essel Group,DSQ and Zee Cadila.Ketan Parekh manipulated the stock market through FII’s (Foreign Institutional Investors), OCB’s (Overseas Commercial Borrowings),Banks and Mutual Funds(Unit Trust Of India). In fact an important extension of this scam remains the Unit Trust Of India Scam.