Serious Fraud Investigation Office – Keeping a close watch on frauds in India Inc

The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (‘SFIO’) is an organisation established under the aegis of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) – for investigation and prosecution of white-collar crimes. The SFIO was constituted in July 2003 following the recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Committee. In 2002, the Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended setting up a ‘Corporate Serious Fraud Office’, to uncover corporate fraud, and supervise prosecutions under various economic legislations.
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The PMLA – is the net cast too wide

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’) has undergone multiple amendments after it was brought into operation on July 1, 2005. Most recently, the PMLA was amended through the –

  • Finance Act, 2015 (‘2015 Amendment’)
  • Finance Act, 2018 (‘2018 Amendment’)
  • Finance Act, 2019 (‘2019 Amendment’)

These amendments aimed to plug loopholes in the operation of the PMLA – to strengthen the framework for tackling money laundering. In furtherance of this objective, the 2019 Amendment has clarified the definition of “proceeds of crime” under Section 2(1)(u). Amendments were also made to Section 45, following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Nikesh Tarachand Shah[1] case – which struck down the pre-conditions for bail prescribed under Section 45(1). Over the years, the list of “scheduled offences” under Schedule I of the PMLA has also been amended significantly. Another aspect that arises in many PMLA proceedings is the admissibility of statements made to investigating officers.
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Corporate Frauds – Emerging Legal Architecture & Judicial Trends

Corporate scandals and frauds in India are as old as the hills. The 1950s witnessed the infamous LIC/ Mundhra scam, which was the first major financial fraud of the independent India. Frauds continued with an alarming regularity thereafter in every decade – the infamous Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh, Sahara, and Satyam scams are just a few of them. These frauds were investigated by the law enforcement agencies under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The Companies Act, 1956 did not have any separate definition of ‘fraud’. Legally, it was not necessary to have a separate one as Lord Macaulay’s IPC adequately dealt with all such crimes. The Companies Bill, 2008 was the original legislative proposal to replace the Companies Act, 1956 basis Dr. J.J. Irani Committee Report (Irani Report). The Irani report did not have any recommendation for a provision like Section 447 dealing with frauds. It seems the intervening major corporate scandals of 2007-08 led the Parliamentary Standing Committee to recommend two new legislative changes:
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Finance Act 2019 - Prevention of Money Laundering Act Amendment

The Finance Act, 2019 (the 2019 Act) is the Central Government’s endeavour to tighten the gaps around the existing provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA). Amidst the growing number of financial crimes and high-profile cases, the 2019 Act attempts to make the existing provisions stricter and better armoured to detect suspicious transactions. Additionally, the Act, along with the other amendments, has a greater aim of targeting money laundering and terrorist financing. The 2019 Act attempts to remove the ambiguity in the existing provisions by amending eight clauses of the PMLA.
Continue Reading PMLA Amendment 2019 – Plugging the Loopholes

On April 21, 2018 the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018 (FEO Ordinance) was promulgated to immediately bring into effect the provisions contained in the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 (FEO Bill)[1]. The Union Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley, in his Budget speech, had announced that Central Government was considering the introduction of legislative changes to confiscate the assets of ‘big time offenders’, including economic offenders, who flee the country to escape the Indian legal system.

As the process of extradition has often been challenging and ineffective, the Ordinance seeks to compel the fugitive offender to face trial in India through severe deterrents. Care will need to be taken, however, to ensure that the Ordinance does not adversely impact creditor rights. The deterrents and their impact on insolvency resolution are discussed below.


Continue Reading Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018: Impact on Creditor Rights

The Central Government in India had introduced the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (“PMLA”), to prevent the circulation of laundered money. The Act defines money laundering as any process or activity connected to proceeds of crime, including its concealment, possession, acquisition or use and projecting or claiming it as legitimate property. While the PMLA Act allowed for confiscation and seizure of properties obtained from the laundered money, such actions were still subject to the processes of criminal prosecution. This led to many of the persons accused of money laundering, to flee the jurisdiction of Indian courts to avoid criminal prosecution under PMLA and the consequent confiscation of the properties.

On March 12, 2018, the Indian government introduced the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 (“Bill/Proposed Act”), in the Lok Sabha, after receiving approval from the Cabinet, to address the issue of such economic offenders avoiding criminal prosecution. The Bill defines a ‘fugitive economic offender’ as any individual against whom a warrant for arrest in relation to economic offences, under various statutes, listed in a schedule to the Bill (“Scheduled Offence”) has been issued, on or after the enactment of this Bill, by any Indian court, and who:

  • Has left India to avoid criminal prosecution, or
  • Being abroad refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.

Pertinently, in 2015, the definition of proceeds of crime in the PMLA was amended to include property equivalent to proceeds of crime held outside the country.


Continue Reading Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018