Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (SP)
Mangaluru, Jul 16: Taking advantage of loopholes in the system relating to management of ATMs, employees of an agency hired to replenish cash into ATMs of State Bank of India have allegedly swindled a whopping Rs 4.14 crore belonging to this bank.
In the past, the banks used to depute their own employees to remit cash into ATMs functioning under respective branches, but this work has since been entrusted to agencies by banks having large number of ATM network, as it is cost effective.
The agencies are hired by banks after ensuring that they they conform to strict norms prescribed by them as huge amount of cash is entrusted to the agency on a daily basis. Such agencies normally have a manager and two custodians who know the passwords of ATMs. In addition, drivers and gunmen are hired for this job. Normal practice in vogue among these agencies is to compare physical cash existing in ATMs with their account books and conduct audit if there is any shortfall or excess.
In spite of these checks, some employees of an agency named Castech, which was hired to remit cash to ATMs of State Bank of India, have succeeded in pocketing Rs 4,13,57,500. The agency, it is said, came to know about the fraud about a month ago, only after the bank hired another agency in its place, and asked Castech to conduct audit and hand over the work to the new agency.
Castech is a Mumbai-based agency. It bagged the work of managing ATMs of State Bank of India in Dakshina Kannada district in November 2012, and hired several local youngsters for the work. The bosses of the agency at Mumbai and Bengaluru had no inkling that their own staff were rigging a hole in the agency's pockets. After the bank asked the agency to hand over ATM management to the new agency after auditing and tallying physical cash, the agency asked Pradeep, working as area manager in the city, to tally the accounts and hand over ATMs to new agency.
Pradeep, who handed over accounts of 29 ATMs, dithered in the matter of giving accounts pertaining to remaining 19 ATMs. Growing suspicious, officials deputed by the agency from Mumbai and Bengaluru conducted investigation and found that there was a total shortfall of Rs 4,13,57,500 in these ATMs. The company found shortfall in all the remaining ATMs. Umashankar, regional manager of Castech, confirmed about this shortfall.
Area manager, Pradeep, says that he knew all along that irregularities were taking place and had planned to somehow replenish shortfall during audit. When the agencies began audit work, the staff used to bring cash from another ATM to show that the physical cash tallied with accounts. He has charged employees, Uday, Mahesh, Guruprasad and Sridhar, of usurping different amounts of money between five and 47 lac rupees. Sridhar, Guruprasad and Mahesh left their jobs, leaving Pradeep high and dry, claims Pradeep.
The agency initially asked all the employees to remit the money they had taken away, so that the matter could be closed without police complaint. As the employees did not commit to do so, the agency filed a complaint with the police. Since the complaint was filed about a month ago, all the culprits have disappeared, and in spite of efforts put by police personnel, have succeeded in remaining at large.
It is gathered that when Castech in-charge, Kunal, accompanied by area manager, Pradeep, visited Pandeshwar police station to file complaint, they were reportedly advised to hold negotiations before registering complaint. The other staff claim that one of the employees, Harish, belonging to a poor family from Bajal, had bought a flat costing Rs 65 lac, a house for Rs 30 lac, apart from a car and motor bike in the recent past. Still, there is no clarity about the individual amounts each of the agency staff had pocketed. As such, the agency has named all the 18 employees in its complaint as accused.
City commissioner, Murugan, holds irresponsibility on the part of bank officials and negligence of the agency for this huge fraud. He says that it is difficult to reach to the depth of the issue and clearly say what had happened and how, unless all the employees, who have gone underground now, are caught. He also blames the agency for filing complaint after these employees absconded. Regional manager of SBI in the city, Venkat, when contacted over phone, said he is not aware of this mess.
Harish Poojary was drawing a salary of Rs 8,000 and his elder brother earns Rs 10,000. When his house was visited at Bajal, his mother, who was alone there, said that the family bought plot there by selling off a four cent land, and built house by raising loan of five lac rupees. She says that her son is in the city, and that he meets her now and then, and speaks to her over cell phone regularly. Apparently, the police have not tried to nab him on the basis of location of his cell phone. The police commissioner himself feels that the complaint was filed by the agency for claiming insurance amount, and therefore it appears his department has not attached the importance it deserves to this case.
Police commissioner, Murugan, says that the agencies entrusted with the work of remitting cash to ATMs get everything isnured. He wonders how the bank failed to monitor how much cash was drawn from their ATMs and how much has remained in each of them, as these can be monitored from their desks. It appears that the bank and the agency failed to keep check on how much money was put into the cash box of ATMs by agency employees each day. Using this loophole, staff of the agency have usurped money.
When contacted, the Pandeshwar police said that investigation into the case is on. "SBI has provided a list of 18 suspects, out of whom six have already obtained anticipatory bail from the court. As the fraud took place over a period of three years, we need to probe the case thoroughly and investigate in detail. There are also innocents among those named in the list, who were not employees and had no idea about the fraud. We are enquiring each and everyone," said a police official. However, no one has been arrested yet.
The entire case looks like a tragedy of errors. Several omissions and commissions have compounded the problem and given way for such a big fraud. The police, who are able to catch unknown thieves in several cases, have failed to lay their hands on the culprits in this case, although their photos, names, videos of individual accused, address proof, and all other documents are available. Perhaps it is time for all other banks to sit up, take notice of the magnitude of this fraud, and immediately check their ATM accounts and plug loopholes in the system if any without further delay.