India bank suspends employees in money laundering probe

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Leading Indian private bank HDFC has suspended 20 employees in a probe into possible money laundering, a source at the bank said on Sunday.

The bank acted after online news outlet CobraPost ran a sting last week, with one of its reporters posing as a customer and seeking advice on investing up to US$2.8 million (S$3.49 million) with three top private banks, HDFC, ICICI and Axis.

The news outlet said the reporter used a hidden camera to record dozens of conversations with bank employees, which it then posted on its website.

"We suspended 20 employees who were shown in the CobraPost video, it was one of the first steps we took when the video came to light," said the source at HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation).

The employees worked at various bank branches across north, west and east India, the source added.

In a statement Saturday, HDFC said it has appointed accounting and audit firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India to conduct an inquiry into allegations that some bank officials were ready to assist money laundering.

ICICI, India's second-largest bank by assets, said it has suspended 18 employees over the issue. Axis has launched an internal inquiry into the accusations, local media reported.

The footage shot in so-called "Operation Red Spider" was said to show executives of the three banks agreeing to take cash from the undercover reporter, but no money actually changed hands.

The finance ministry and central bank are already looking into allegations of money laundering by private-sector banks.

"Black money" - funds not reported to the government for tax purposes or parked abroad to avoid tax - is one of the issues that has roiled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scandal-tainted administration.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.