PNB's mystery manager: From digging wells for a living to siphoning Rs 12 cr for day-trading

Representational image. File photo: Manorama

Kozhikode: The Principal Sessions Court in Kozhikode Thursday rejected the anticipatory bail application of Punjab National Bank (PNB) senior manager Rijil M P (32), who is facing charges of siphoning Rs 12.68 crore from the bank. Investigating officers said Rijil sunk the money in day trading, which exploits the inevitable fluctuations in the stock market.

But 10 days after the Kozhikode City Town Police registered an FIR against him, police have neither questioned him nor do they know his whereabouts.

On Wednesday, police issued a look-out circular against Rijil to stop him from fleeing abroad, said Kozhikode District Crime Branch assistant commissioner Antony T A, who is heading the investigation.

Rijil is turning out to be a mystery guy. He has left almost no digital footprints. He is absent on social networking sites. A Google search of his name throws up only the recent news reports filed after the Kozhikode Municipal Corporation first reported the missing money on November 29.

And his friends and neighbours cannot recognise the Rijil reported in the media. "He is the kind of model person our mothers put on a pedestal," said Adv Pragin Lal P, who has known Rijil from his childhood.

They grew up in Erimala, a village near the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode, at Chathamangalam Grama Panchayat.

Rijil was a first-generation college student and had come up the hard way. During his school and college days, he used to go with his father to dig wells and take up digging work for KSEB to help the family put food on the table, said Pragin Lal.

Representational image.

His mother even today takes up work under the rural employment guarantee scheme, said Ali Kunju, a former panchayat member.

They live in a small dilapidated tiled-roof house. Rijil owns a motorcycle and uses it to go to work and return to the small house, said Pragin Lal.

During holidays, Rijil could be seen around the village library and never hesitated to help youths in need of guidance.

After his under-graduation at Malabar Christian College in Kozhikode, he joined Calicut University to do an MBA offered by the Department of Commerce and Management in 2012. "He dropped out after six months. Maybe he got a job with the bank," recalled a faculty member of the department.

Some time ago, he took a home loan of Rs 50 lakh from his bank to build a house on a 10-cent plot. The house is ready. The family was supposed to shift to the new house this month.

"He destroyed everything. His future. His parents' hopes," said Ali Kunju.

Rijil was engaged to be married but the woman called off the wedding after he was charged with cheating and criminal breach of trust. "Thankfully, he did not give a single paisa to his parents," he said.
Rijil's advocate M Ashokan refused to comment saying he was out of town.

Assistant commissioner Antony said Rijil did not withdraw any money he siphoned off from PNB's Link Road branch in Kozhikode. "In the past 10 days, we have tracked the movement of money he stole. That is Rs 12.62 crore. More than Rs 11 crore has gone into speculation trading, and the rest in Rummy Circle. There is no withdrawal of cash," he said.

The crime came to light when Kozhikode Municipal Corporation wanted to tap its account that received professional tax to pay salaries to the employees. That was sometime in mid-November, said Mayor Beena Philip. "We checked online and found around Rs 98.60 lakh was missing from the account," she said.

Kozhikode Corporation
Kozhikode Corporation office. Photo: File/Manorama

The corporation immediately called up the bank and asked for a statement. "But within a few minutes, the missing money was credited to the account," she said.

But what happened was the Link Road branch had a change of guard. Rijil was transferred to the Eranhipalam branch six months ago. The new manager was clueless about the missing money and contacted Rijil, said Antony. "Rijil immediately transferred the missing amount to the Corporation's account from another account of the Corporation in the same branch," said the officer.

This raised the suspicion of the new manager.

The bank has 15 Kozhikode Corporation accounts, including two Kudumbashree accounts for a housing scheme and a nutritious food scheme. "Money was illegally moved in and out of almost all the accounts," said the mayor.

The new manager tracked the movement of money in his branch and found illegal transactions in at least 17 bank accounts, said the officer.

The money was routed to the account in the name of Rijil's father in Link Road Branch, and from that account to Rijil's trading account in Axis Bank, said the Crime Branch assistant commissioner.

The police have frozen the Axis Bank Account and Rijil's father's account with PNB. "The Axis Bank account has only Rs 5 lakh and his father's account has less than Rs 1,000," Antony said.

Though money was stolen from 17 accounts, only nine accounts lost money because he allegedly was only shuffling money from one account to another to evade detection, the officer said.

Of the nine accounts that lost money, five belonged to the Kozhikode Corporation and four belonged to establishments and private individuals.

Rijil was transferring around Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh to his father's account every day, said the officer. "There were days when he did three illegal transactions worth Rs 5 lakh each," the officer said.

Antony said Rijil might have done more than 250 such illegal transactions in the past year and a half.

When asked about SMS alerts sent to phones, the officer said some of the mobile numbers registered against the municipal corporation's bank accounts belonged to its former employees. "What I found during the investigation is people were not very alert on alerts (from banks)," he said.

He, however, added that police would investigate if the bank's alert system was tampered with.

He said Rijil was able to transfer money in accounts in Link Road sitting in the Eranhipalam branch. "That is a cause for concern. We will have to see if there were lapses on the part of PNB," he said.

When the bank reverted to the Municipal Corporation with details of the fraud, it filed a police complaint with Kozhikode City Town Police Station on November 29.

Police charged Rijil with cheating (Section 420 of the IPC) and criminal breach of trust by a banker (Section 409 of the IPC). If found guilty, he could face imprisonment for the rest of his life.

Antony said the investigation till now pointed towards a "one-man game". "In all probability, he got sucked into speculation trading, which is more or less gambling if done without a strategy or market knowledge," he said. And you have to cash out at the end of the day's session, irrespective of how the stocks or market indices fared.

A bank official said Rs 12 crore was too big a game for one bank manager. "If a manager saves Rs 50,000 a month, he will save only around Rs 2 crore to Rs 3 crore when he retires after 30 years. So you know how criminally big his game was," the official said.

Rijil was on the list to be promoted to chief manager at the age of 32 years.

PNB's Link Road manager refused to talk to Onmanorama. PNB's Kozhikode circle head N Ramachandran did not attend calls made to his office and mobile phone.

Mayor Beena Philip said the Municipal Corporation would get its money from PNB. "But the police should investigate how one person managed to move out crores of rupees from a bank without his higher officials getting a whiff of it till we found out," she said.

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