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| 23 February, 2018

Indian auditor group begins probe into PNB fraud case

ICAI says probing whether auditors played a role in PNB fraud

A bird flies past the logo of Punjab National Bank installed on the facade of its office in Mumbai, India February 21, 2018.

A bird flies past the logo of Punjab National Bank installed on the facade of its office in Mumbai, India February 21, 2018.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI  - The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), a state-controlled regulator for the sector, has said it is probing whether auditors played a role in perpetrating the alleged $1.77 billion fraud that Punjab National Bank unearthed last week.

The ICAI said on Thursday it has asked the Securities and Exchange Board of India, Punjab National Bank (PNB) and federal investigating agencies to share their findings about the alleged fraud, including anything related to the involvement of any chartered accountants.

The ICAI, which functions under the administrative control of India's Ministry of Corporate Affairs, said it has set up a committee to study the systemic lapses that contributed to the fraud and to suggest remedial measures and improvement.

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Separately, the Economic Times newspaper reported that PNB has tapped PwC to conduct a probe into the alleged fraud that would help the bank build a case against jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.

PNB officials were not immediately available for comment, while PwC declined to comment on the matter.

Modi, his companies, and firms with links to his uncle Choksi, are at the center of the alleged fraud that involved illegally issued letters of undertaking (LoU) from PNB which were used to get credit from overseas branches of other, mostly Indian banks.

The alleged fraud went undetected as the SWIFT interbank messaging system used to transmit the LoU was not integrated with PNB's core banking system (CBS), thus allowing the LoU to go unnoticed for years.

In what has been dubbed the biggest loan fraud in India's banking history, police have so far arrested at least a dozen people - six from the bank and six more from Modi's and Choksi's companies.

A lawyer for Modi has denied his client was involved in any fraud. Choksi has not commented but his firm, Gitanjali Gems GTGM.NS , has also denied involvement in the alleged fraud.

BANKS SCRAMBLE

India's central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, has asked other Indian banks with similar vulnerabilities as PNB to fix these issues by April 30, said Allahabad Bank's ALBK.NS Chief Executive Usha Ananthasubramanian.

Allahabad Bank, a state-run lender, said on Thursday that it is working on linking its core banking system with the SWIFT messaging service.

Responding to a question on whether the RBI had directed all banks to link their main banking systems with SWIFT by April 30, Ananthasubramanian said: "Correct".

"That is an outer limit, but today the urgency is such that may be I'll shelve one project aside and step into this and tell my vendor to fast track this," she told media on the sidelines of an industry event.

Shares in PNB, which have lost nearly 30 percent of their market capitalization since the fraud was made public, were down nearly 1 percent in afternoon trading on Friday.

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma and Devidutta Tripathy; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan) ((euan.rocha@tr.com; +91 22 6180 7257; Reuters Messaging: euan.rocha.reuters.com@reuters.net))