Standard Chartered tries to cover up its messy past, but SEBI is in a slumber
April 14, 2010
Standard Chartered Bank’s draft red herring prospectus to raise $500 million-$700 million through the first-ever issue of Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) has completely blanked out at least 15 litigations pending against it in connection with the securities scam of 1992 and a foreign exchange scandal involving the misuse of its vostro account, also in the 1990s.
The prospectus has reportedly been cleared by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which is fully aware that most litigations pertaining to the 1992 scam are still dragging their way through the Indian judicial system. It is shocking that the Bank has attempted to avoid disclosure, given that the Bank's deep involvement in the scam is widely known in India and the IDRs are being sold to Indian investors. What is worse, when asked about the failure to disclose litigation pending against the Bank, SEBI has chosen to not to respond to the emails marked to the entire top brass of the Bank.
On checking with the Bank, Arijit De, head of external communications, has this to say: “With reference to your email to Neeraj Swaroop, our response is as below: The IDRs represent the shares of Standard Chartered PLC, UK , the ultimate parent company of Standard Chartered Bank, India. In accordance with the disclosure requirements under SEBI Regulations, IDR Rules, other applicable laws and international practice, SC PLC has made appropriate disclosures of all material issues in the draft offer document filed with SEBI. We have nothing further to add beyond what is disclosed in the DRHP.”
However, a simple reading of page 414 of its draft red herring prospectus suggests otherwise. It says: “As of the date of this Draft Red Herring Prospectus, neither the Company, any member of the Group, any Director, or any material associate of the Company (emphasis ours) are involved in any material governmental, legal or arbitration proceedings or litigation and the Company is not aware of any pending or threatened material governmental, legal or arbitration proceedings or litigation relating to the Company, any member of the Group, any Director or any material associate which, in either case, may have a significant effect on the performance of the Group, and there are no liabilities or defaults (including arrears and potential liabilities) in relation to such material proceedings or litigation which would be required to be disclosed under the SEBI Regulations.”
Moreover, the cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate and in the Special Court do not all pertain to the Indian operations (the Bank's Indian operation itself is significantly large and important, especially after the impact of the global financial crisis). In fact, many of them specifically name a former chairman of the Bank, Rodney Galpin.
Among the cases that we have information about include some in the Special Court set up to try the securities scam related offences (MA 365/2003 – SCB v/s the Custodian & others; Suit 45 of 1995 SCB v/s Andhra Bank; Suit No 6 of 1994 SCB v/s Andhra Bank and Suit No 32 of SCB v/s Andhra Bank). Then there are at least half a dozen cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate, many of them in 2002. We have sent a list of all these cases to SEBI, but have no response from the regulator.
Are these cases serious enough to make a difference to the Bank's global operations and performance? Probably not. Also, many Indian companies have successfully raised funds, even after disclosing that the main promoters were accused of murder or worse. The issue is the Bank's lack of transparency, while selling a financial instrument to Indian investors.
What is worse, the failure to insist on this disclosure reflects even more badly on the market watchdog. In its very first IDR clearance, SEBI has shown that it is probably overawed with the international bank's plans to raise funds in India or its fat, 801-page offer document. Either way, it is not insisting on the same transparency and disclosure standards that it expects from Indian companies, which should be a matter of serious concern, given that global banks have not covered themselves in glory in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008. — Sucheta Dalal