The Congress on Sunday 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" of Rs 22,842 crore by Gujarat-based ABG Shipyard.
The opposition party 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.
On February 7, the Central Bureau of Investigation booked ABG Shipyard Limited, its former chairman and managing director Rishi Kamlesh Agarwal and others for allegedly cheating a consortium of two dozen lenders led by the ICICI Bank.
Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that the Modi government is running a 'loot-and-escape' scheme for bank fraudsters, while naming Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, Jatin Mehta, Chetan and Nitin Sandesara, and many others who fled the country after duping Indian banks.
He said the latest entrants to the list are Agarwal and others, whom he described as the 'new gems.'
"Complicity, collusion and connivance of those sitting in the highest echelons of power in the Modi government is writ large in India's biggest bank fraud involving ABG Shipyard and its promoters," Surjewala told a press conference here.
He said even though the process of liquidation of ABG Shipyard was started on August 1, 2017 by the National Company Law Tribunal, the Congress had warned about the alleged scam on February 15, 2018 and the State Bank of India had filed a complaint against the company and its promoters on November 8, 2019 and again on August 20, 2020.
"Why did it take five years after the liquidation proceedings of ABG Shipyard to lodge even an FIR for duping 28 banks of Rs 22,842 crore?" Surjewala asked.
"Why did the Modi government refuse to take note of the allegations made on February 15, 2018 by the Congress, warning of a scam in ABG Shipyard, and why no FIR was lodged and criminal action taken despite their accounts having been declared as fraud on June 19, 2019?" he asked.
The SBI on Sunday said it has been diligently following the ABG Shipyard case with the Central Bureau of Investigation after the forensic audit report.
In a statement, it said a fraud is declared on the basis of the forensic audit report findings that are discussed thoroughly in joint lenders meetings and when a fraud is declared, an initial complaint is preferred with the CBI and based on its enquiries, further information is gathered.
"In a few cases, when substantial additional information is gathered, a second complaint incorporating full and complete details is filed, which forms the basis for the FIR. At no point in time, there was any effort to delay the process. The lenders forum diligently follows through with CBI in all such cases," it said.
Although the ICICI Bank was the lead lender in the consortium and IDBI was the second lead, it was preferred that being the largest public sector bank, SBI lodges the complaint with CBI, it said.
Surjewala said the SBI wrote to the CBI in November 2018, "saying there was a fraud committed by ABG Shipyard and seeking the registration of an FIR and criminal action. Despite this, nothing happened and the CBI pushed the files back to the SBI. Public money keeps getting swindled, but no FIR is lodged".
The SBI said the loan turned NPA on November 30, 2013.
Several efforts were made to revive the company operations, it said, adding that the account was restructured under the CDR mechanism in March 2014 by all lenders but it could not be recused.
On August 25, 2020, the SBI filed a second complaint with the CBI, saying "please register an FIR as this is a case of cheating and fraud. But the CBI still does not act. It waits for another year and a half. Finally, now, after five years, this FIR has been registered", Surjewala said.
Surjewala alleged that "these indelible facts reflect the gross mismanagement of the banking system, holding the banking system captive to fraudsters and the initiation of the loot-and-escape flagship scheme for bank fraudsters."
"Over the last seven-and-a-half years of the Modi government, incidents of bank fraud involving a total amount of Rs 5.35 lakh crore have been reported. During this period, the write-offs by the banks in India is Rs 8.17 lakh crore.
"Bank NPAs amounted to Rs 21 lakh crore between 2014 and 2021. That is the state of gross mismanagement of people's money, which is lying in the banking system," the Congress leader said, adding, "India woke up to the rude shock of the biggest ever bank fraud in the last 75 years involving Rs 22,842 crore."
He claimed that ABG Shipyard was allotted 1.21 lakh square metres of land in 2007 by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat.
"The comptroller and auditor general had indicted the then Gujarat government for undue favours to ABG Shipyard and Rishi Agarwal over allotting land at Rs 700 per square metre, while the price of the land was 100 per cent higher, that is Rs 1,400 per square metre," Surjewala said.
He said the then Gujarat government proceeded to allot 50 hectares of land to ABG Shipyard in Dahej.
The SBI had first filed a complaint on November 8, 2019 on which the CBI had sought some clarifications on March 12, 2020.
The bank filed a fresh complaint in August 2020.
After 'scrutinising' the complaint for a year and a half, the CBI acted on the complaint, filing an FIR on February 7 this year.