Tribunal backs ban on Mount directors: Original Bombay money-laundering suspicions not backed up by Bank

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A BANK of England investigation that led to the closure of Mount Banking Corporation a year ago was triggered by suspicions of large- scale money-laundering of the proceeds of an Indian stock exchange fraud against Standard Chartered Bank and a number of other 'suspicions of serious improprieties', according to a judgment published yesterday by an appeal tribunal set up under the Banking Act.

The tribunal backed the Bank's judgement in declaring the owners of Mount, the brothers Suresh and Navin Shah, as 'not fit and proper' to control a bank.

But the grounds the Bank eventually used to justify its action were unconnected with the suspicions that prompted the investigation.

Lawyers for the Shahs said in a statement: 'The decision vindicates our clients' position since the beginning of this matter that they have not received any money belonging to Standard Chartered Bank, which had been stolen as a result of the Indian stock exchange scandal.'

The Shahs claimed that without that allegation it was unlikely that a court order to close Mount would have been granted.

The judgment, the first in a contested case since the Banking Act went on the statute books in 1987, says the Bank has not 'subsequently placed reliance' on the original suspicions in any of its official section 13 notices under the Banking Act or before the tribunal.

Standard Chartered has told Phil Wallace of KPMG Peat Marwick, Mount's administrator, that it is still investigating the alleged Indian connection. But it has not lodged any claim as a creditor of Mount, now in a creditors voluntary arrangement.

The investigation and another dollars 93m claim against Mount mean that Mr Wallace has restricted an initial payout to 30p in the pound.

Mr Wallace said: 'Standard is continuing to investigate the Bombay frauds to see whether Mount was involved. It has not asserted that it will make a claim. We are taking a prudent view of whether they might be able to make a claim.'

The tribunal decision ends the Shahs' hopes that they can revive Mount, one of three banks serving the UK Gujarati community closed in the past year. The tribunal also found against an appeal by Mount over restrictions on continuation of its banking licence. But Mr Wallace has gained an extension while he seeks other buyers.

The Shahs' statement said nothing before the tribunal involved dishonesty or misappropriation of depositors' money.

But the tribunal backed the Bank supervisors in their criticisms of Suresh Shah's 'general competence and soundness of judgement.' Examples were the mingling of his private and customers' money in an account without proper records, instructing staff to accept a dollars 140,000 cash deposit without asking about its origin and returning dollars 3,100 of counterfeit money found to the customer and not reporting it to the police.

Suresh Shah also displayed 'overriding dominance' in the bank, in breaching company procedures and dealing with a Caymans offshoot. And there were doubts about his openness and probity over the ownership of private companies.

The conclusion against his brother Navin Shah was backed but on the weaker grounds that he 'may not be' fit and proper.

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