Kerala

Treasury fraud: Accused hatched plot in December, Kerala police tell court

Image for representational purposes only

Image for representational purposes only   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The Kerala police have told a court in Thiruvananthapuram that the plot to siphon off lakhs of rupees from the State treasury was hatched in December last.

In a court filing, the police named M.R. Bijulal, senior accountant, Sub Treasury, Vanchiyoor, as the main accused in the sensational case.

The government on Monday ordered the dismissal of the official. The police have named him a fugitive. They have also named his wife, Simi D. Ambi, a government schoolteacher, as an accomplice to the crime. The police said that Bijulal had exploited the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic situation in the Sub Treasury to electronically transfer, on the sly, an estimated ₹60 lakh from the State coffers to a treasury account operated by his wife.

He then electronically moved the money to the bank account of his wife and a relative of his in instalments over several months.

The fraud had come to light last week when another treasury official, Babu Prasad, found that the books of account in the sub-treasury did not balance. Investigators told the court that Bijulal had misused the user name and password of a treasury official who retired in May last to orchestrate the fraud.

The high-profile crime had cast doubts on the integrity of the accounting, banking and cash transfer processes in the Treasury Department.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the accused was a member of the employees union owing allegiance to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The police have formed a special team Assistant Commissioner, Crime Branch, M.K. Zulfikar, to investigate the case.

Glitch in online banking software

An official said the accused had exploited a glitch in the treasury online banking software to steal money from the public exchequer. He said theft might not be limited to just one fraudulent transfer. More fraudulent transactions could have occurred. The detection so far appeared to be the tip of the iceberg, he said.

A preliminary investigation had “revealed” that Bijulal had used his official user name and password to electronically transfer ₹2 crore from the District Collector’s Tribal Welfare Fund to an account he operated under his name in the treasury.

From the corpus amount, Bijulal electronically moved ₹62 lakh to the treasury account of Simi. The police said Bijulal used the user name and password of a retired senior supervisor to authenticate the transaction.

The police said the Treasury Department had failed to cancel the user name and password of the supervisor when he retired on May 31, thereby opening the door for the fraud.

They were verifying how Bijulal came across the password in the first place. “One possibility is that it had remained saved in the system or the accused had retrieved it through some means”, an investigator said.

He said the accused had immediately removed electronic records of the transaction after the fraudulent cash transfer. The accused had also somehow tweaked the software to create the “electronic impression” that the cash remained intact in the District Collector’s account.

The police have sought the help of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), which designed the software, to understand the vulnerabilities of the system and how the accused could have exploited them to his financial advantage.

An investigator said a preliminary verification of Bijulal’s internet activities had “revealed” that he was a compulsive online gambler. It was possible that he incurred substantial debt and had slipped into crime to meet his financial obligations. The accused, who was reportedly on the run from the law, had moved the District Court here for anticipatory bail.

Finance Minister Thomas Isaac told reporters here that a five-member committee was conducting a “functional audit” of the online banking system to identify vulnerabilities. The government would receive a report on August 9.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 2:19:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/treasury-fraud-accused-hatched-plot-in-december-kerala-police-tell-court/article32265671.ece

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