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Fly-by-night IT firms make hay

The frauds are a result the close nexus between private and foreign banks, foreign agencies and touts, reports Srinand Jha.

business Updated: May 23, 2007 00:31 IST
Srinand Jha

The UK-based Salient Online set up office in Panjim in 2004 and offered computer-related jobs to locals. Timely payments were made. Later, rumours of a likely ban on new registrations spread, leading to a huge rush for new registrations. The company collected huge deposits over the next few months and then, vanished into thin air. "Every household in Goa was affected," says Manzoor Ali, president, Goa Chapter of the Software and Data Entry Entrepreneurs Association (SADEEA).

Noida-based Mind Vision Data Solution engaged Anahita Software Solutions for a data conversion project in 2006. As payment guarantee, it opened five irrevocable letters of credit (LCs) totaling $2,40,000. The project was completed but Mind Vision disappeared and the banks did not honour the LCs.

The SADEEA too was fooled when one Sandeep Saboo of Ms Vertex Infrastructure, claiming to be an agent of a foreign company, set up an agreement for some projects in 2005. The company issued three irrevocable LCs amounting to $20,09,50 but Vertex Infrastructure went off the radar.

Just some of the cases mentioned in legal notices sent by SADEEA to the Finance Ministry, Reserve Bank of India and economic offences wings (EOWs) of state police departments in over 10 states. Tales of this nature have also been pouring in from Pune, Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Vijaywada, Visakhapatnam, Varanasi, Delhi and Gurgaon.

With the huge demand for jobs in the IT-BPO sector, fly-by-night operators are having a field day swindling individuals and companies. "It is a fraud totalling Rs 15,000 crore and three lakh IT professionals are affected," SADEEA president Duvuri Ravi Kumar said.

"These frauds are perpetuated because of the nexus between private and foreign banks, foreign agencies and touts," Kumar has alleged in his letter dated March 26 to the RBI. The apex bank’s deputy general manager V Venkat Mohan acknowledged receipt of Kumar’s letter, stating that the "complaint is under active consideration".

The SADEEA, which has also sent complaints to the President and Prime Minister, is now planning to move the Supreme Court. The absence of a regulatory authority to monitor LC operations enables forgeries of this sort, SADEEA says in its letter.

It has also expressed apprehension that anti-national elements are allowing the inflow of unaccounted foreign currency by way of circulating fake LCs in collusion with Indian banks, at grave risk to national safety. In response, ICICI Bank spokesperson Rahul Virkar termed these allegations "unsubstantial and baseless".

A government official said LC-related frauds are governed by the UCPDC-500 rules, with the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce as the arbitration authority. India does not have a centralized monitoring mechanism to keep track of such crimes.

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