SFIO widens Vijay Mallya probe; former top bankers under scanner

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Widening its probe into the financial irregularities at erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines, SFIO has started examining former chiefs of various banks, including public sector lenders, for having extended fresh loans allegedly without full due-diligence amid ballooning losses at the Vijay Mallya-owned carrier.

The white-collar crimes probe agency is also looking at allegations of loans being extended on the basis of “inflated” valuation of brands and some other assets as also suspected fund diversions from the airline, whose founder and main promoter Vijay Mallya is already under scanner of multiple
agencies, including the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.

Sources said SFIO has widened investigations into the affairs of Kingfisher Airlines and is now focussing on the lenders as well as their top management personnel for the suspected lapses in the due diligence process before extending loans to the carrier.

The agency has examined some former heads of public sector banks which had extended loans to the airline at a time when the carrier’s losses were on the rise, they added.

When contacted, former heads of some public sector banks, on condition of anonymity, accepted having been approached by the agency but maintained it was more about seeking information about the loan disbursal and other technicalities.

They maintained that there were no lapses at the top management level and diverted the official queries to the respective banks. According to the sources, SFIO, which comes under the Corporate Affairs Ministry, has issued summons to former top officials of more than ten banks.

A significant chunk of the loans were given between 2007 and 2010, while the carrier’s net losses jumped to more than Rs 1,600 crore in 2008-09 period. Queries sent to SFIO Director and Corporate Affairs Ministry remained unanswered.

Bogged down by huge losses and liabilities, including dues to the lenders, the carrier was grounded in late 2012.

The flamboyant Mallya, who has also been declared as a wilful defaulted, left the country in March this year amid lenders stepping up efforts to recover dues worth more than Rs 9,000 crore. As part of the probe, which has been going for more than three years, SFIO has already questioned Mallya and other officials of the now defunct airline.

Besides, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) is looking into the high valuation of over Rs 4,000 crore secured by the airline as part of its overall probe. The agency is investigating whether such a high valuation was arrived at fraudulently to get more funds from banks and siphon off the additional money for purposes other than proposed investment in the airline.

In this regard, SFIO is also looking into the role of Grant Thornton LLP, which had valued the brand. Grant Thornton India LLP, in March, had said it stands by the brand valuation report of Kingfisher Airlines and was ready to provide all required information to appropriate authorities.

Sebi is also looking into alleged cases of insider trading and violations of listing regulations and corporate governance norms, among other lapses.

The ED registered a money laundering case against Mallya and others based on a CBI FIR registered last year. The agency is also investigating the overall financial structure of Kingfisher Airlines and will look into any payment of kickbacks.

The CBI had booked Mallya, Director of Kingfisher Airlines, the company, former CFO A Raghunathan and unknown officials of IDBI Bank in its FIR alleging that the loan was sanctioned in violation of norms regarding credit limits.

WTO’s future bright; US ready to up engagement with India

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Confident of greater bilateral trade and enhanced cooperation at global economic platforms, the US Sunday said it is ready to increase engagement with India to find new common ground at WTO and asserted that the future looks “bright” for this global trade body.

The comments assume significance as during the WTO’s Nairobi Ministerial conference, differences had surfaced between developing countries including India and developed economies including the US on issues related to the Doha Round, public stockholding for food security purposes and new issues being pushed by the rich nations.

“In our view, the future looks bright for the WTO and we remain ready to increase our engagement with India to find new common ground after years of impasse in the Doha round,” Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, told PTI in an interview.

He also said that the proposed Bilateral Investment Treaty between India and the US needs to be of “sufficiently high standard” and discussions would continue to achieve this outcome.

Zients, who will be in India this week for the second US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, further said: “We are already working with India and other WTO members to find new ways forward to take up pending Doha Round issues and to ensure that the WTO’s agenda remains relevant, particularly with respect to issues such as the digital economy and interests of small and medium enterprises.

“The last two WTO Ministerial Conferences in Bali and Nairobi were significant successes, including outcomes on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, agricultural export subsidies, and public stockholding for food security purposes.”

He added: “We recently built on these successes at the G-20 Trade Ministers Meeting in Shanghai where we made commitments on lowering the costs of trade, coordinating efforts to reinforce trade and investment, and supporting sound agriculture policies.”

Zients also serves as Assistant to the US President for Economic Policy. Previously, he was appointed by the President to a newly created position of United States Chief Performance Officer. Prior to joining the Administration, Zients spent 20 years in the private sector as a CEO, management consultant and entrepreneur.

During his India visit, he would co-chair the second US-India CEO Forum alonside the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

On concerns over slowing global trade and the role India and the US can play, being the two major trading partners of the world, Zients said: “US-India bilateral trade has grown 80 per cent since 2009. Since that time, India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and the US has continued to strengthen following the recovery from a significant economic recession, with policies that encourage innovation, trade, and investment.

“We have each had our own challenging domestic conversations on trade, but trade has provided huge benefits to both the US and Indian economies”.

He said both the economies are well positioned to continue contributing to global trade growth. He added that the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and US-India CEO Forum this week, as well as the Trade Policy Forum that will be held in October, are focused on ways to strengthen bilateral trade partnership and business environments.

Zients said: “We are working together both bilaterally and multilaterally to increase trade, remove constraints, and create jobs. Regional efforts to open economies and increase connectivity across countries are also important. The US and India also have an important opportunity next week at the G-20 Leaders’ Summit hosted in Guangzhou, China, where counties will continue our efforts to achieve sustainable growth and spur job creation.”

Asked about the long-running discussions on a new Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two countries and whether any positive closure was expected during the Dialogue, he said over 500 US companies are active in India and the US foreign direct investment (FDI) in India stands at over USD 28 billion.

At the same time, Indian FDI in the United States has nearly doubled since 2010, he added. Zients said: “Investment treaty discussions are not on the agenda for this week’s Strategic and Commercial dialogue, but the prospect of a US-India bilateral investment treaty (BIT) is something we continue to support.

“Discussions on such important agreements between two large economies can take time. By establishing clear rules for investors, such treaties can improve confidence in an investment climate, and in doing so help spur investment, economic growth, and job creation.

“But to achieve these objectives, a BIT needs to be of a sufficiently high standard, and we continue to explore with India how discussions could lead to such an outcome.”

Historic building restoration requirements

Historic buildings restoration  are an important part of our culture and have been and continue to be extremely valuable resources to show later generations their importance in history and the unique and beautiful characteristics that were created.

These buildings require careful and appropriate restoration and current protection from future damage to make sure that they will continue to look as magnificent as they did originally and retain their historical significance.

There are certain requirements and standards for restoration. Some of those are:

1. Distinctive features, materials, construction and craftsmanship techniques, and finishes from the period will be significantly retained and preserved.

2. The property will continue to be used as it was or will be given a new use only if it reflects the property’s restoration period. Historic buildings can often be adapted for a new use without damage to their historic character. The property is to still be recognized as physically being a record of its time, use, and place.

3. The work required to stabilize and conserve the features and materials from the restoration period will be visually and physically compatible, can be identified upon inspection, and will be properly documented for any future research.

4. Deteriorated features should be repaired instead of replaced, if at all possible. If the deterioration is severe and requires replacement, the new feature will match the old in materials, the design, the colors, and texture.

5. Prior to doing any of the work, the period of time should be justified and a documented restoration plan developed.

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