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Authors: Ravi Subramanian

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BOOK: The Incredible Banker
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'Yes, Ronald. Someone from my team visited his apartment in Chembur this morning. We were not allowed to go in. It's a sanitised area. There is a large posse of police personnel posted outside his house. A number of TV outdoor vans were also parked there. After his arrest, it looks like his family has gone into hiding. There is no one at home. Unless the CBI has taken them into custody for their own safety,' Rohan said.

'Or maybe for interrogation,' added Mansi.

'Possibly,' echoed Ronald. 'And Mansi, will you use your contacts at least now and see what the media is planning. I want to know what they propose to do. We need to protect our brand. We need to safeguard our interest. Deepak may be involved but we cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into this issue. And that reminds me, where is the briefing note that I wanted to send to Singapore?'

'That will be with you in five minutes. Rajesh Krishnamoorthy is working on it,' Mansi answered.

'Ok, make sure it is comprehensive and covers all the information that we have.'

'Sure, Ronald.'

"Thanks. We will all assemble here again in the next sixty minutes. And Mansi, can you please ask Joel to come in, too? I want HR to be completely in the loop.'

As all of them were walking out, Ronald called out to them.

'Folks...Do you think Deepak is guilty?'

'I don't know,' said Rohan. 'But the way it has unfolded it looks like he is definitely involved. Guilty or not, I can't say.' He refrained from being judgemental.

Ronald just nodded his head as the others walked out of the room.

The day was too hectic for Ronald. Rushing from one meeting to the other, from one conference call to the other, he did not know when the day ended. The press had come calling more than once and each time they were sent back with a press release. Mansi and her team had drafted a crisp press note which just said that the matter was subjudice and hence the bank would not comment on it. The release also went on to say that they were working with the regulatory authorities to get to the bottom of this and would share the details with the press as appropriate.

Savitha was continuously trying to reach Deepak on Sunday but his mobile was switched off. She spent the entire night wondering what had gone wrong. Nervously, on Monday morning, she packed her daughter off to school and got into her car. She drove all the way from Bandra to Chembur, to Deepak's house, only to see it surrounded by hordes of people, almost all of them from the media.She quietly made a hasty retreat and returned home. She did not know what to do. It was best to wait and watch.

The whole of Monday, Deepak spent at the CBI office at an undisclosed location in Mumbai. He was interrogated repeatedly on his relationship with the referee. How did he get to know him? Where did he meet him? What all did they discuss? The CBI had a number of questions to ask him. Deepak had answers to many of them. When Deepak did not know the answer, he was tortured mentally. The CBI had already pronounced him 'guilty' and was trying to get the most out of him. It was a harrowing experience.

By evening on Monday, Deepak had become the most well-known GB2 banker in the country. Almost everyone who watched TV knew his name. All the channels carried this story as the lead. A foreign banker involved with the Naxalites and being a Naxal sympathiser made for very interesting viewing.

By evening CBI came out with a press release in support of the story. They fed the media with the necessary fodder. The fact that Deepak was a supporter of the Naxal movement and had a role to play in the massacre of innocent policemen in RaniBodli was put out to the press at large. The story of Francis and the Omega watch was given out to the media.

As Ronald had expected, there was pandemonium at GB2 headquarters. Everybody from the regional office to the global headquarters in New York were keen to know what the story was and what steps were being taken to reduce the negative impact that this story could potentially have on the brand. To make matters worse, Christmas holidays were about to begin and almost all the seniors were expected to be on leave for over three weeks. Everyone wanted to make sure that they had covered up their bases and gathered as much data as was required to keep their seniors happy. No one really came forward to help Ronald solve the problem – they just wanted to know what he was doing to fix it.

The whole thing was becoming too frustrating for Ronald. But as the CEO of the bank in India, there was no running away from it. By afternoon, the RBI had inquired about what was going on. Mansi, along with Saurabh, made a quick trip to the RBI and reassured them that GB2 management was on top of things and there was nothing to be concerned about. It was a mere issue of non-compliance by one of their staff members. It was not a systemic issue but more a matter of personal integrity and that the judiciary was dealing with it. RBI bought their explanation.

That evening, Mansi called Bhisham. 'Bhisham, that Francis fella...'

'Yes, what chaos he is creating for us? But Mansi, do you think Deepak could really be involved?'

'These days it's difficult to tell, Bhisham. Anyway, leave that. The police will figure that out. Bhisham, I called because Ronald wants to know if the card of Francis is a delinquent card. The data that came to us in the morning suggests that it is not. However, I wanted to check with you.'

'I expected this question. I have seen the statements. No suspicion. He is a very good customer. High spender on the card. Pays every month and is what we call a transactor – a customer who spends on the card and pays the entire amount almost instantaneously...does not revolve on his card, in other words he does not carry forward the outstanding by paying a minimum amount due.'

'Oh, in short, a very good customer. That's good. I will inform Ronald.' Mansi did not understand a word of what Bhisham had said. All that she could make out was that Francis's card was not a delinquent card.

"Ihanks, Mansi. Call me in case you need any help. Do you want a note for Ronald on the performance of Francis's card?'

'Of course, it will help. Why don't you send it to Ronald?' and then she paused. 'Wait. Send it to me first. I am putting together something for Ronald on this. I will give it to him along with the other papers.'

She then called up Ronald almost instantaneously to inform him that Francis was a non-delinquent, high spender but a transactor. A good customer who banks would die to keep on their rolls!

'Something seems fishy here. If he is such a good customer, it is difficult to digest that he would be involved in such activities. Can you re-check?' Ronald seemed suspicious. Mansi just muttered something into the phone and hung up, leaving Ronald wondering if everything was as clear as it looked.

'Sherlyn,' he called out. 'Can you please call Rohan Naik and also get the fraud head, Inder on line? It's urgent!I need them on a conference call.'

Sherlyn called back almost immediately. 'Ronald, both Rohan and Inder are on line-2.'

"Thanks Sherlyn.' Ronald walked to his desk to pick up line-2.

'Good evening, folks,' he said. Both Inder and Rohan chorused, 'Evening Boss.'

'Any progress on the investigation?'

'Inder, you want to take the lead?' Rohan clearly had not done his homework. Probably the criticality hadn't sunk in yet.

'Sure, Rohan.' Inder began his download. 'Ronald, we checked this gentleman's card performance. Absolutely clear performance. We have retrieved the application form, photograph and his KYC. They all seem to be in order. We have not been able to match his picture with that of the killed Naxalite because we don't have the picture of the Naxalite.Once we have that and also the forensic report of the passport copy, we will be able to confirm if the passport was genuine.'

'By the way, we have requested the CBI for a photograph of the killed Naxalite. They have said that they will provide it soon. They have their own protocol to follow,' Rohan added.

'Ok, great. As far as the card is concerned, the spending is reasonably high. Around 35-40,000 per month. The customer spends on his card and almost instantaneously pays up. He seems very conscious that he does not have to pay any penal charges or interest. Very good customer.'

'Have you sent someone to the customer's house?'

'Not yet, Ronald. We will do it soon. Since the CBI is investigating this case, we did not want to be seen to be interfering with the probe and that's why we have been going slow on external investigation. We have rather been focusing on the details that we have on hand.'

"Thanks. Keep it low key and let me know the moment you find something fishy. Irrespective of what time of the day or night it is.'

'Sure, Ronald,' Inder replied.

Ronald was not happy. He felt that he was dealing with a bunch of incompetent people. A feeling shared by almost everyone who comes into foreign banks in India from overseas!

Back at the TOI office, Karan was at his desk trying to finish his article which was scheduled to appear in the paper on Tuesday. This was as per the plan given by Karan and Bhaskar to Andy. He was almost through his first draft when the ring of the phone at his desk disturbed him. 'What the fuck!' he exclaimed as he stretched out his right hand to pick up the phone. He was desperately trying to focus as he had to finish the article and send it out.

'Good evening, Karan here.' He didn't sound as if he was too keen on entertaining the caller.

'Hi Karan, how are you?'

'Who is this?'

'It's me, you idiot! How can you forget me?' The caller seemed slightly annoyed.

'What?' There was silence for a few seconds.

'Karan, you still there?'

'Oh God! It's you. What a surprise! And why are you calling me on my land line?'

'I did not want to take a chance and call you on your mobile. You reported the story first. What if they are tracking your mobile? That's why I called on the board line. In fact I came back home to call you because I was worried that they might be tracking calls in and out of GB2.'

It will, however, take some guts to tap phone lines in and out of
The Times of India
.

'You sound as if you are about to reveal something gory and sinister?'

'Maybe.'

'What?' Karan couldn't believe. 'Tell me it is not about Francis or whoever the fella is ?' he continued after a few seconds.

'Not on the phone, Karan. See me at the Café Coffee Day oudet in Kalaghoda in twenty minutes.'

'Wait! Wait! Wait! I am just finishing my story. This has to go to press in the next one hour. Let me finish and then come.'

'Karan, this can be the story of your life. You decide what you want. I can either meet you in the next twenty minutes or else I will see you the week after next. I am flying off to the USA tonight for a two-week holiday. You decide.'

'But I have just completed the first draft of my piece, silly. Give me at least ten more minutes,' Karan persisted.

'Ok, thirty minutes, at Café Coffee Day. I will wait for ten minutes. If you don't come, I will go home and see you in two weeks' time.'

"This better be good, buddy.' The phone was disconnected by the time Karan spoke the final sentence. He looked at his watch. It was 7.45 p.m. He was already late for the next day's cover story. He quickly looked at the article. It was a seven on ten. He could do a better job if he had the time. But the guy on the phone had him hooked. Maybe there was something
sinister.

He emailed the half-baked story to Bhaskar and requested him to take a look at it before sending it to Andy. All the first page stories were personally read and passed by Andy. This was to make sure that there was no reputational impact to the newspaper. Andy read Karan's article and cleared it in one go. Karan is a genius, he thought and began reading other stories.

Karan in the meantime rushed to the Cafe Coffee Day outlet at Kalaghoda. It was a good ten minutes from where the
Times of India
office was. He stopped a cab outside his office and hopped into it. The driver started haggling. Cabs in Mumbai never came easy for short distances.

By the time the cab pulled outside Café Coffee Day, it was 8.20 p.m. He was five minutes late. Thankfully he had been given a grace of ten minutes, and he was well within the grace period. Hurriedly he hopped off the cab, gave him a fifty-rupee note and rushed into the café. He didn't even wait to take the change back from the cab driver.

CCD at that time was almost empty. Kalaghoda and its surroundings were predominantly office locales which would be extremely crowded during the day. However by the evening, these lanes and bylanes would look deserted. Everyone would have left for home, and 8.20 was hardly a time for coffee.

There were about five people in the CCD oudet at that time – all in different corners of the café. He looked around, as if hunting for his prey. And there he was. In the farthest corner where it was reasonably darker. Brooding over his cup of coffee was this guy whom he had seen a couple of years ago.

'Hey, how are you, buddy? What a surprise?' The last he had seen of Amit was when he was in the mortgages role in western India. Amit was the credit head for mortgages at that time. He was Deepak Sarup's guy.

The guy gave Karan a very nervous smile. It looked as if he was extremely scared.

'Hi, Karan,' he responded.

'Hey, what's up? Is everything ok? You don't look good,' Karan asked him.

'I am fine, Karan. Except that I have been wondering for the past twenty-four hours, if I should do what my conscience tells me, or what my organisation demands of me as an employee.' Karan responded to his statement with a confused look.

'You know, Karan, two years back when Deepak was auditing you in mortgages, I played a role in fixing the audit. On Deepak's insistence I fudged some data on valuations and legal opinions and that was held against you. No one knows about it except Deepak and me. You weren't even given an opportunity to defend yourself. The dice was so heavily loaded against you that you didn't have a choice but to look for greener pastures outside GB2.'

BOOK: The Incredible Banker
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