London: The High Court of England and Wales on Thursday dismissed a $45-million deceit claim brought by the UK subsidiary of Punjab National Bank (PNB) against seven individuals and two companies, based in India and the US.
London-based Punjab National Bank International Limited's (PNBIL) claim concerned eight loans it made between 29 March, 2011, and 1 December, 2014, for oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the US.
PNBIL had accused the individuals and companies in question of breach of contract, misrepresentation and deceit.
In his judgment at the High Court's Chancery Division, Chief Master Marsh concluded that the bank had failed to make an "arguable case in deceit against the defendants".
"[The] core components of a claim in deceit are absent; or if they are present, they are provided as such a high level of abstraction as to be totally inadequate," he notes.
Referring to the case as having "an unfortunate history", the judge also pulls up PNBIL for a lack of "frankness" with the court.
"It is disturbing that the US claim was not brought to the attention of the court in a plain and direct manner from the outset. It is equally disturbing that the claimant's intention to bring proceedings in Chennai was not investigated and details of the claim was not revealed to the court," the judgment order states.
The judge further observed that the failure to draw to the attention of the court the existence of the foreign claims was a "serious breach" of the claimant's duty to the court.
UK-based law firm Zaiwalla & Co represented eight of the defendants against PNBIL – Ravi Srinivasan, Trishe Resources INC (USA), Vathsala Ranganathan, Pesco Beam Environmental Solutions INC (USA), Pesco Beam Environmental Solutions Private Limited, Anantharaman Shankar, Luke Staengl and Anantharam Subramamium.
The court noted that it was common ground that none of the defendants have any connection with England. However, the contracts were executed in England, the loans were negotiated here and the loan accounts are all held and operated in London.
PNBIL had relied on these facts and the willingness of the borrowers and their directors to travel to London for the purposes of arranging the loans as part of its case.
"The decision serves as a reminder that serious allegations of fraud have to be supported by cogent facts and evidence: speculative claims will not be permitted to proceed to trial," Zaiwalla & Co said in a statement.
"The decision of the court has saved everyone concerned a great deal of time and money by being dismissed at an early stage, although the bank will still face claims for substantial costs as well as having to pay its own costs," it adds.
PNB International Ltd had claimed that it had been misled and defrauded by the actions of the defendants following the granting of loans amounting to USD 45 million to companies in the US and India controlled by the individual defendants.
The bank also alleged that money had been siphoned off and payments due had not been made under the loan facilities and guarantees.
All the defendants, except one who is US-based, are resident in India and PNBIL, represented by UK-based Cubism Law, had served the proceedings by email on the defendants in India and the US.
PNBIL is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Punjab National Bank (PNB) in India, which started its UK operations in 2007 and operates through seven branches around the country.
It is yet to officially comment on the ruling.
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 10:32:06 IST