ED raids ABG Shipyard offices for alleged money laundering
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday raided multiple premises in Mumbai, Pune and Surat in connection with a money laundering probe against ABG Shipyard Ltd in an alleged Rs 22,842 crore bank loan fraud case, officials said.
As many as 26 premises are being searched in these cities by the federal agency under the criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), they said.
The searches are being conducted to gather financial documents and related information of the company and its former promoters and linked persons, officials stated.
The ED had filed a money laundering case in February after studying a CBI FIR against the former promoters of the ship building company apart from a forensic audit report prepared on the operations of the group.
The CBI had booked ABG Shipyard Ltd and its then chairman and managing director Rishi Kamlesh Agarwal along with others for allegedly cheating a consortium of banks of over Rs 22,842 crore.
It had also named the then executive director Santhanam Muthaswamy, directors Ashwini Kumar, Sushil Kumar Agarwal and Ravi Vimal Nevetia and another company ABG International Pvt Ltd for alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, criminal breach of trust and abuse of official position under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The ED is looking into the charges of alleged "diversion" of bank loan funds, creation of shell firms to launder public money and the role of the executives of the company and others.
Instances of "huge investments" being made in the overseas subsidiary of the company by "diverting" the loans will also form an essential part of the ED probe, officials had told PTI after the PMLA case was booked.
The agency is also empowered to attach assets of the accused once the charges of money laundering and layering of funds are established.
The loans given to the company include categories like CC (cash credit) loan, term loan, letter of credit, bank guarantee etc.
The CBI FIR came about after the State Bank of India (SBI) first filed a complaint with it on November 8, 2019 after which the agency sought some clarifications on March 12, 2020.
The bank filed a fresh complaint in August that year. After "scrutinising" the complaint for over one-and-a-half years, the CBI filed an FIR on February 7.
The company was sanctioned credit facilities from 28 banks and financial institutions led by ICICI Bank, with the SBI having exposure of Rs 2468.51 crore.
A forensic audit by Ernst and Young showed that between 2012 and 2017, the accused colluded and committed illegal activities, including diversion of funds, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust, the CBI had said.
The CBI had said in a statement that the funds (bank loans) were used by the company and its promoters for purposes other than for which they were released by banks.
The loan account was declared a non-performing asset (NPA) in July, 2016 and a fraud in 2019.
In its complaint, the SBI said ABG Shipyard Ltd (ABGSL) is the flagship company of the ABG Group which engaged in the business of shipbuilding and ship-repair.
The ABGSL, being a major player in Indian shipbuilding industry, operates from shipyards that are located at Dahej and Surat in Gujarat, with a capacity to build vessels up to 18,000 dead weight tonnage (DWT) at Surat Shipyard and 1,20,000 dead weight tonnage (DWT) at Dahej Shipyard.
The company has constructed over 165 vessels, including 46 for export market, in the last 16 years, including specialised vessels like newsprint carriers, self-discharging and loading bulk cement carriers, floating cranes etc with class approval of all international classification societies like Lloyds, American Bureau of Shipping, Bureau Veritas, IRS, DNV, the complaint said.
"Global crisis has impacted the shipping industry due to fall in commodity demand and prices and subsequent fall in cargo demand.
"The cancellation of contracts for few ships and vessels resulted in piling up of inventory. This has resulted in paucity of working capital and caused significant increase in the operating cycle, thereby aggravating the liquidity problem and financial problem," the SBI complaint said.
It added there was no demand of commercial vessels as the industry was going through a downturn even in 2015 which was further aggravated due to lack of defence orders, making it difficult for the company to maintain re-payment schedule.
The company has already been referred to the NCLT, Ahmedabad, by the ICICI Bank for corporate insolvency resolution process, it said.