Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: Top consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is in a spot as it was behind Swapna Suresh's, an accused in the gold smuggling case busted at the Trivandrum International Airport, recruitment to Space Park, an undertaking of the Kerala government's IT department.
The Kerala State IT Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), a public sector undertaking that is in charge of Space Park, has sought a clarification from PWC after Malayala Manorama broke the news that her graduation certificate was forged.
It will seek legal advice on further action against the PWC after it completes its investigation.
The Chief Minister's Office has also demanded all the files related to Swapna's appointment.
Swapna had submitted a B.Com degree certificate, purportedly issued by the Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Technological University in Lonere, Maharashtra, for the job.
The university, however, said that the certificate was fake and that the signature and seal on the certificate were forged.
Swapna was not a student of the university and neither the university nor the colleges under it offer B.Com course, its Controller of Examinations Dr Vivek S Sathe had told Manorama.
The technological university has expressed surprise that no one bothered to verify and confirm the authenticity of the certificate.
Sathe also told Manorama that police are investigating similar cases of fake certificates issued in the name of the university in states such as Delhi, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Swapna was dismissed from Space Park after she was named as an accused in the smuggling case.
The PwC insists that it had done a thorough background check on Swapna and was convinced that there was nothing amiss.
The firm said it had appointed a third-party agency, Vision Technology and Staffing Solutions, to do the background check on Swapna.
The IT department had sought details of the agency many days ago. But, it got the details only late on Friday evening.
The agency had given Swapna a clean bill, even though she was being investigated by the crime branch in a case of false sexual harassment allegation she had made while working as a trainer with Air India SATS in 2013.
Swapna had accused a ground handling officer of sexual harassment and had also produced fake witnesses before an Air India committee that was looking into the case, which was later handed over to the crime branch.
During interrogation, Swapna admitted to the crime branch that her allegations were not true.
PwC paid Rs 2.7 lakh per month
When the Space Park project needed a consultant to manage its day-to-day operations, PwC, which is the consultant for the project, was asked to pick a candidate. Subsequently, Swapna Suresh was appointed to the project management unit of Space Park through Vision Technology.
The IT department paid PwC Rs 2.7 lakh per month for Swapna's services. PwC, in turn, paid Vision Technology Rs 1.4 lakh per month. The amount included Swapna's salary of Rs 1.1 lakh.
While Vision Technology was paying Swapna her salary, she joined the government job as a representative of PwC. KSITIL has no direct dealings with Vision Technology.
Action against Vision Technology: PwC
The PwC has said it will take action against Vision Technology for its role in Swapna's appointment.
It said Vision Technology has been providing temporary staff since 2014. It recommended Swapna's name to PwC for a short-term job at Space Park, saying she has the requisite qualifications.
Swapna's background check was done by a company called Knowy HR Solutions Private Limited.
According to PwC, this is one of the best companies for conducting background checks.
Vision Technology executives refused to give any comment on either Swapna or her recruitment. They said no investigating agency has so far questioned them on this.
The company's office, which had remained closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, was reopened only on Friday. They, therefore, don't know much about the case, the executives said. They said while the company has been in operations since October 2011, it was registered only on September 25, 2019.
Fake degree certificate and a scam website
It has emerged that the gang providing counterfeit documents of the university even runs a fake website with the name and logo of the educational institution to help 'verify' the registration number on fake degree certificates like the one Swapna has.
Swapna likely benefited from the hi-tech mafia in procuring the fake degree certificate she had submitted to get high-paying government and private jobs.
The official website of the university is dbatu.ac.in. But when you do a Google search, the fake site, dbatechuni.org.in, comes up in the results. This site allows you to enter the registration number and 'verify' it.
The 'mark sheets' associated with the fake registration numbers can also be downloaded from the website. In short, those who consider this verification to be valid will be deceived.
A well-organised racket is likely behind this scam website. The university has filed a police complaint against this fake website.