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Indian police book top Citigroup managers


Indian police said Wednesday they had registered a case against the chief executive of US banking giant Citigroup and other board members over claims of fraud at a local Indian branch.

The case was registered after an Indian businessman who had lost money in the fraud filed a complaint against Citigroup's Indian-born CEO Vikram Pandit and 10 other senior managers of the global financial services group.

"Falsification of accounts, breach of trust and criminal conspiracy are the key charges levelled against the 11 bank officials," senior police officer S.S Deswal told AFP. Under Indian criminal law, police register a case to start an investigation before deciding whether to press charges.

Last week, police arrested Shivraj Puri, a bank employee in a Citibank branch in Gurgaon, a satellite city outside New Delhi, who is accused of duping investors and diverting more than four billion rupees (88 million dollars).

The businessman who filed the complaint against the Citigroup executives, Sanjeev Aggarwal, claims that the fraud "points to a systemic failure" in the company.

"The entire organisation is responsible, hence I have named (chief executive) Pandit," Aggarwal, who says he has lost his life savings, told The Indian Express newspaper.

Responding to Aggarwal's complaint, Citibank in an emailed statement said that "claims against senior executives are completely without basis and we intend to contest them vigorously."

It added: "Citi will continue to work with the authorities on this investigation."
The US-based executives named include Pandit, chairman William R. Rhodes, chief financial officer John Gerspach and chief operating officer Douglas Peterson.

Local commentators said they did not expect the senior US executives to face prosecution.

"It is a local case with a very little chance of the main office or top executives of the bank being directly or indirectly involved in the scam," DHP Panandiker, an independent economist in New Delhi, told AFP.

Earlier this week, police arrested Sanjay Gupta, a senior manager at India's biggest motorcycle maker, Hero on charges of criminal conspiracy in the fraud case.

The company has launched an internal enquiry and it said Wednesday that two other employees working in the accounts department could have participated with Gupta in the Citibank scam.

"Two employees... have also been identified to have been in possible collusion with Sanjay Gupta and Citibank employees," the company said in statement reported by the Press Trust of India.

"They have been sent on leave with immediate effect by the company," it added.

Deswal, who is leading the police investigations in the case, said the alleged fraud came to light when one of the bank's clients mentioned the scheme to a senior manager.

Investigations have shown that employees at the bank in Gurgaon, where many international companies are based, had forged letters to divert funds and sell fake investment schemes.

"We are still trying to understand the exact modus operandi as money was diverted through several channels," Deswal said, adding: "Many more arrests could be expected in the case."

In November, several executives of state-run banks and an insurer in Mumbai were also arrested over alleged bribes totalling more than 200 million dollars paid to sanction loans to property developers.