Participatory Notes are a slap on the face of every citizen who is an investor. To invest in shares one has to fill up umpteen forms and provide proof of residence, PAN number, and so on. But for PN investors, the system is totally silent, even on basic information. Why not have confidence in the India story and realise that we can get funds with addresses without offering such anonymity.

The PN system is discriminatory and seems to favour ghost investors.

Participatory Notes (PN) — a general name used for the investment by Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) through Offshore Derivative Instruments (ODIs) such as Participatory Notes, Equity-Linked Notes, Capped Return Notes and Participating Return Notes — have created a storm in the stock market, with SEBI coming out with a draft for discussion to regulate them, the RBI suggesting that they be phased out, and the Finance Minister assuring that the Government is not going to phase them out.

First things first. Let us clearly understand the fundamental issues. The PNs are a slap on the face of every citizen who is an investor. For a person to invest even in one share, several KYC (know your customer) forms have to be filled up, and PAN numbers and proof of address, etc., provided. For the PN investor the system is totally silent on even elementary information. The FIIs issue PNs to funds/companies whose identity is not known to the Indian authorities.

Hence, the PN system is blatantly discriminatory and seems to favour ghost investors. Any self-respecting market, if it discriminates at all, does so against outsiders. But we have done the unthinkable.

We should recognise and internalise the fact that funds are in search of markets, and not the other way. Given the demographic shift in the developed markets (where pension funds have to locate markets to get returns for longer periods) and the lack of huge opportunities in long-term projects, it is natural that global funds are in search of markets.

The PN route, through which a section of investors is participating in our markets, is a mystery wrapped in a puzzle, crammed inside a conundrum and delivered through a riddle. These are address-less funds that could be from dubious sources and the clamour for it is intriguing, if not outright suspicious.

Current Scenario

According to the SEBI Web site, the current position of these instruments is as follows: “Currently, 34 FIIs / Sub-accounts issue ODIs. This number was 14 in March 2004. The notional value of PNs outstanding, which was at Rs 31, 875 crore (20 per cent of Assets Under Custody of all FIIs/Sub-Accounts) in March 2004, increased to Rs 3,53,484 crore (51.6 per cent of AUC) by August 2007.

The value of outstanding ODIs, with underlying as derivatives, currently stands at Rs 1,17,071 crores, which is approximately 30 per cent of total PNs outstanding. The notional value of outstanding PNs, excluding derivatives as underlying as a percentage of AUC is 34.5 per cent at the end of August 2007.” (SEBI – Paper for Discussion on ODIs).

This implies that more than 50 per cent of the funds are flowing through this anonymous route which needs a re-think on this entire issue. This brings us to the question about who are the investors interested in Indian Papers.

Who uses the PN route?

The first category is the regular funds whose twin objectives are returns and more returns on a 21*7*365 basis. They are interested in India since the India story is very good and returns are attractive compared to developed markets. The second category is prodigal money returning. It is not a secret that a large number of politicians/bureaucrats/business-persons have accumulated wealth abroad. This has been accumulated by under-invoicing/over-invoicing, by corruption in contracts and gifts from abroad; and by not bringing in legitimate receipts.

The third category is those foreign governments/entities who would like to acquire/control Indian entities by taking them over.

The fourth category is the terror financiers who could find this route attractive and simple. The first category does not have any reason to use the “anonymous” route since the aim is to earn returns /repatriate and benefit out of interest rate and currency value arbitrage. They enter and exit as per these calculations and are not shy about the greed for maximum returns. They pay the taxes applicable and laugh all the way to the bank with bonus incentives.

The only issue is that currently the stock market is the only route for investing while several other “unlisted” sectors, such as trade, transport, restaurants and other services are starved of funds. Maybe methods should be evolved to get these regular global funds to invest not just in the top ten shares of the stock market but in the needs of the large non-corporate or “ unlisted” segments of the economy, through NBFCs. That would ease the volatility in the market since currently large funds are chasing too few shares of the Sensex or Nifty.

No more ‘safe havens’

The second category will be enthusiastic in bringing the money back into India since the KYC (Know your Customer) norms in many so-called “safe” territories like Switzerland are becoming tougher — particularly after 9/11— and the India story is very interesting and the returns and growth prospects are very good. The Government can always think of an “Amnesty Scheme” for such “prodigal funds” in the form of “no questions asked” about the source. But, once the funds are brought in, then all the KYC norms must be followed, with minimum legal and tax hassles. After all, such amnesty schemes for the domestic black-money holders in the past have met with reasonable success. Otherwise, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) can be created which can be dollar-denominated to hold these funds at attractive rates and which are converted over a period of time to minimise the flow impact.

Harmful for companies

The third category spells danger for domestic companies since the unknown entity may be targeting the local company without its knowledge. With reasonable control they can pressure the current owners to settle with them or even try taking over.

This becomes more ominous in the context of several sovereign funds, like that of China, using the private equity companies to manage their funds which are non-transparent.

These PEs could use other vehicles to acquire on behalf of these sovereign funds and it may be possible that Chinese or West Asian sovereign funds may hold indirectly shares in Indian companies, particularly in software or oil or telecom, which are critical sectors.

The fourth category is the one to be worried about. The terror financier will be happy on two counts, namely the anonymity provided by these instruments and the domestic regulations on gifting the shares.

Also important is the issue of the sale of these PNs to entities that could be inter-connected to the original buyers.

In other words, the original buyer and to whom he sells could belong to inter-connected terror entitities, in which case the global entity could have succeeded in transferring funds to India with ease and anonymity.

It is not without basis that the National Security Advisor (NSA) has cautioned against terror-financing through the banking and stock market channels.

That is a cause for concern. Why are we insisting on the anonymity of the investor and the sources? Why not have confidence in the India story and realise that we can get funds with addresses since we have arrived on the global arena?

We should distinguish between clean global flows and dubious flows as a responsible country with a remarkable growth story.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How the courts tracked the cash flow in Poes Garden


File photo of Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence.   | Photo Credit: S.S. Kumar

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Trial Court’s verdict convicting AIADMK’s interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala, her relatives V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Elavarasi, of criminal conspiracy to acquire and possess assets grossly disproportionate to their known sources of income.

Since the main accused in the case, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, has died, the charges against her have been abated. But the conviction and sentence against the accused have been upheld, and they have to surrender before the Trial Court in Bengaluru and serve out the remainder of sentence awarded to them.

The Trial Court had taken into consideration valuation of income and expenditure and assets from July 1, 1991 to April 30, 1996. The case of the prosecution was that, as on July 1, 1991, Jayalalithaa had assets in her name and in the name of Sasikala, who was living with her at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai, to the extent of Rs.2,01,83,957, including properties acquired in the name of Jaya Publications, Sasi Enterprises and Namadhu MGR, which had been floated by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala as partners. But, after July 1, 1991, there was sudden spurt in the acquisition of assets, and during this period, Jayalaithaa and Sasikala floated several firms in the names of Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi.

Here are the notable facts from the judgment, upholding the Trial Court’s findings

There were no business activities at all at many of the firms, and in others the activities were more in the nature of acquiring assets like lands, machinery, building etc., which were not production oriented. The fact that in a single day, 10 such firms were constituted with identical features was reiterated. No income-tax returns were filed by these firms, nor was there any assessment for commercial tax done with respect to the business of these firms. Jayalalithaa also did not file her income-tax returns for the assessment years 1987-88 to 1992-93 till November, 1992 when this issue was raised in Parliament.

The Trial Court noted that at the commencement of the period there were hardly 10 to 12 bank accounts standing in the names of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala but thereafter 50 accounts mushroomed.

An amount of Rs.13,55,28,685.50 in all, had been deposited by cash through pay-in-slips in the current accounts of Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi and the firms, not matching with their income. Apart from being in large amounts — varying from above Rs.50,000 to Rs.33,70,000 – on every occasion, the deposits were also made quite frequently. The pay-in-slips provided in support of such cash deposits even disclose deposits of various amounts in different accounts on the very same date.

The Trial Court noted that the absence of deposits in the account of Jayalaithaa proved that the wealth in circulation had its origin in her coffers. Not only are cash deposits of such huge amounts out of the ordinary, but the mode of deposit — by pay-in-slips through a selected few and at regular frequencies — pointed to laundering of gigantic amounts of unaccounted cash.

There were frequent transfers of amounts between accounts to facilitate illegal acquisition of assets. The huge quantum of such assets, when viewed in the context that Jayalalithaa was holding the office of Chief Minister and that Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi were living under the same roof as Jayalalithaa without sufficient means to acquire the assets in their names, established that the assets were actually acquired by Jayalalithaa.

Evidence submitted in the trial showed that a member of staff at Jayalaithaa’s house in Poes Garden used to fill in challans at the direction of Sasikala, and remitted money into various bank accounts on her instructions. The amounts used to be dispatched in suit cases and bags through domestic servants.

The Trial Court took note of the fact that Jayalalithaa, as partner in Jaya Publications, had executed a general power of attorney in favour of Sasikala. Though Jayalaithaa’s defence claimed that such a power of attorney was to give Sasikala a free hand in the management of Jaya Publications and that she was unaware of transactions carried on by her, the Trial Court held that by the execution of such power of attorney, in law, Jayalalithaa rendered herself liable for all acts and deeds of Sasikala.

Not only did Sashikala and Sudhakaran start independent concerns in their names, even defunct companies were purchased/taken over by the respondents. However, none of these firms or companies actually carried on any business except acquiring huge properties. Referring to the fact that at the time of opening of the bank accounts of these firms/companies, none of these entities had any independent resources, the Trial Court deduced that these firms/companies were nothing but extensions of Namadhu MGR and Jaya Publications and owed their existence to the benevolence of Jayalalithaa and Sasikala for continued sustenance.

The joint residence of all the accused persons also was a factor contributing to the charge of conspiracy and abetment. The free flow of money from one account to the other of the respondents, and the companies also proved beyond reasonable doubt that all the accused persons had actively participated in the conspiracy to launder the ill-gotten wealth of Jayalalithaa for purchasing properties in their names.

The Trial Court said that evidence was provided by Sub Registrar, North Beach, Sub Registrar’s Office and Radha Krishnan, Horticulture Officer, that they were called to Poes Garden and on the instructions of higher officers, and they obliged Jayalalithaa by relaxing the rules in the registration of large number of documents and also overlooked the fact that properties were undervalued. This showed the involvement of Jayalalithaa in these transactions. Registering authorities had even permitted the registration of six documents without incorporating the names of the purchasers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Education in Pakistan

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rose Valley cheques for BJP traced to Andaman


Madhuparna Das| ET Bureau | Feb 7, 2017, 03.04 PM IST

The money trail in Rose Valley scam and some other deposit-taking businesses is also leading to a senior leader of the BJP’s women’s wing in the state.The money trail in Rose Valley scam and some other deposit-taking businesses is also leading to a senior leade… Read More

KOLKATA: After the Trinamool Congress, it is the BJP’s turn to face the heat in the Rs 17,000-crore Rose Valley group deposit-taking scam. Investigators have traced at least three cheques amounting to more than Rs 1 lakh issued in favour of the BJP in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, during the years when the Rose Valley group had an active business in the area.

The Kolkata Police appears to have stepped up its probe after the Central Bureau of Investigation last month arrested Sudip Bandyopadhyay, the leader of Trinamool Congress’ parliamentary party in Lok Sabha, for his alleged involvement in the Rose Valley group scam which is estimated to be six times bigger than the earlier Saradha group scam.

BJP’s Bishnu Pada Ray, three-term Lok Sabha member from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told ET, “The Rose Valley group was doing business in Andaman and Nicobar and like other parties had given us donations. During the operational years, they had given some donation to the party fund. We had taken the amount through cheques.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CBI’s inaction against Chidambaram led to Maran’s discharge in Aircel-Maxis scam


Was not moving against Chidambaram deliberate so the Maran brothers could escape?

Was not moving against Chidambaram deliberate so the Maran brothers could escape?
Was not moving against Chidambaram deliberate so the Maran brothers could escape?

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s sheer inaction against the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram for dubious approval of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to Malaysian company Maxis to take over Aircel, resulted in the discharge of former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran and brother Sun TV Group head Kalanidhi Maran. For the past 30 months the CBI has not turned up in the 2G Court after promising in August 2014 to finish the probe on FIPB violations committed by Chidambaram.

Swamy’s version was that Maran only conspired with Chidambaram in illegally bringing Maxis to India.

Maran’s name cropped up in Aircel-Maxis scam in April 2011, when CBI received complaint from Aircel promoter Sivasankaran, alleging that he was arm twisted by the Telecom Minister in 2006 to sell his company to Maxis. CBI went ahead with the arm-twisting theory and stated in Supreme Court on July 7, 2011 leading to Maran’s exit from UPA Cabinet. CBI filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Maran in September 2011 along with brother, Maxis owners T Ananadakrishnan and Ralph Marshall and companies including the Sun TV Group.  Still it is a mystery, as to why Sivasankaran approached CBI against Maran in 2011 on arm-twisting that happened five years ago.

Aircel-Maxis scam shook the Congress, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy (then in Janata Party) in April 2012, exposed the role of Chidambaram in the scam and money trail to his son Karti linked firm of around Rs.26 lakhs. Then Swamy went to Supreme Court’s 2G cases monitoring Bench arguing that CBI’s Maran arm-twisting theory was not fully correct and that the actual crime started after P Chidambaram granted the bogus FIPB clearance. Swamy’s version was that Maran only conspired with Chidambaram in illegally bringing Maxis to India.

After Chidambaram was caught, the case went into deep freeze till the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) exited from power. CBI, in August 2014, after pressure from Supreme Court on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Prashant Bhushan, charge sheeted Maran and others in August 2014, detailing the illegalities of Chidambaram. CBI promised  in charge sheet and in arguments of finishing soon on the probe on Chidambaram’s illegalities. Though Chidambaram was questioned by CBI in December 2014, CBI did not move an inch due to stalling by allegedly the then pliant CBI Director Anil Sinha and covert operations of the then Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das (Das has since been shunted out to be the Secretary of Economic Affairs).

But as FIPB Chairperson Chidambaram did not take it to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs(CCEA).

In the Discharge Order on February 2, 2017, Special Judge of 2G Court OP Saini clearly says that CBI just jumped on Sivasankaran’s complaints and never provided evidence of arm-twisting.  The main illegality was committed by Chidambaram in dubiously giving the FIPB clearance. How can Maran be fixed after the FIPB clearance? Without Chidambaram there is no case against Maran.

What were the illegalities of Chidambaram exposed by Subramanian Swamy and later ratified by the CBI and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)?

  1. Aircel-Maxis deal is around Rs.3600 cr. ($535 million) But as FIPB Chairperson Chidambaram did not take it to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs(CCEA). This is the only FDI he did not take to CCEA. Why? Because MHA clearance would have been needed as Saudi Telecom, which has telecom operations in Pakistan has shares in Maxis.
  2. That time only 74% FDI was allowed. But using a circuitous route Maxis got 99.93% ownership, which they declared to the Malaysian Stock Exchange.
  3. 74% of the stake was sold at more than Rs. 3600 crores ($535 million) but the remaining 25.93% was sold at just Rs.28 cr. ($4.2 million) It should have been sold at around Rs.1200 cr. ($178 million)
  4. Later CAG found out that the actual money that came was Rs. 4900 cr. ($728 million) though approved by FIPB(illegally) was Rs.3600 cr.). The extra Rs.1300 cr. ($193 million) was a kickback.
  5. ED now summoned Karti in Oct 2016. The five page summons order says to bring 2 lakh dollar his company Chess Management Services Pvt Ltd received from three Maxis companies after father approved this dubious deal.

The million dollar question is who in this BJP-led government protected Chidambaram and son Karti from CBI and ED charge sheeting? Not doing this of the main culprit Chidambaram led to the discharge of Maran brothers. When is CBI going to act on this grave miscarriage of justice?

The 424 page Discharge Order  is published below:

2G Court Discharge Order on Marans in Aircel-Maxis Case Feb 2, 2017 by PGurus on Scribd

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Catalyst’s Malick, unhappy with report on US influence on India’s demonetisation, hits back with false claim


On rediff, one of India’s most popular news-sites, Badal Malick, CEO of the US-Indian anti-cash-organization Catalyst, explains via a friendly journalist, what Catalyst is doing and that my writing on Catalyst and on Washington’s meddling in the fight against cash in India was bogus. He did not convince me. Maybe he will convince you.

To very briefly summarize my piece “‘A Well-Kept Open Secret: Washington Is Behind India’s Brutal Demonetisation Project‘”( augmented here or both in a consolidated version on zero hedge), I had written that the longstanding US influence, notably the influence of the Better Than Cash Alliance, in the fight against cash in India has been conspicuously absent in the discussion about the sudden demonetization that Premier Modi decreed on 8 November 2016. I have then provided the evidence of this US involvement, including the launch of Catalyst less than four weeks before the demonetization. The rediff-article even mentions that Catalyst was launched at a conference in Delhi hosted by the … drumrolls …  Better Than Cash Alliance.

This is the part of the rediff-article that deals with my writing:

”Even as Catalyst was taking its baby steps, the payments industry went on full throttle with the sudden decision by the government to cancel legal tender of large denomination notes. Khandelwal of CAIT, who had been hard selling the concept to the merchant community, summarises the impact, “Digital payments have become a fashion statement these days. But, when we were holding workshops between 2014 and November 8, 2016, hardly any one turned up.’ For Malick and Catalyst, it was a double-edged sword. While the move made their task lighter in some ways, they got dragged into a controversy after Norbert Häring, a German journalist writing for a Montreal-based think tank, linked, among other things, Malick’s “10x increase” remark in October to the demonetisation decision that came a month later. In an article titled, ‘A Well-Kept Open Secret: Washington Is Behind India’s Brutal Demonetisation Project’, Häring suggested that the seeds of India becoming a laboratory for the global digital push were sown in a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi two years ago. While the article went viral on social media, not many in the sector buy this theory. Sharad Sharma of iSPIRT said the movement of cashless India is several years old and predates Obama’s visit to India. For example, the application programming interfaces for Unified Payments Interface were issued by National Payments Corporation of India in 2014. Malick says the article was baseless. “I was grossly misquoted. Neither I nor USAID were reached out to.”

Malick does not say what it is I grossly misquoted. There are three quotes of his  in my piece. The first is taken from the press statement of USAID and reads:

 „Catalyst’s mission is to solve multiple coordination problems that have blocked the penetration of digital payments among merchants and low-income consumers. We look forward to creating a sustainable and replicable model. (…)”

The second and third are taken from The Economic Times and say:

“While there has been (…) a concerted push for digital payments by the government, there is still a last mile gap when it comes to merchant acceptance and coordination issues. We want to bring a holistic ecosystem approach to these problems.“


“The goal is to take one city and increase the digital payments 10x in six to 12 months.”

You can read for yourself that the quotes are there. Mr. Malick should kindly explain on what basis he accuses me of “grossly” misquoting him.

Note that I am not writing for a Montreal-based think tank. Global Research simply republished the piece from my blog, which I am running in a personal capacity. Sharad Sharma denies something that I have not claimed, nor suggested, namely “ that the seeds of India becoming a laboratory for the global digital push were sown in a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi two years ago.” As Sharma correctly states, the drive against cash in India dates back further –  and so does the involvement of the US. As I explain in my follow-up piece to the first one, the Better Than Cash Foundation, bankrolled by USAID and the Gates Foundation and including Visa and Mastercard amoung its members, was founded in 2012. In 2013, when Raghruam Rajan from Chicago took over at the helm of the Reserve Bank of India, one of the first things he did was to establish a commission on financial inclusion through new technologies headed by Nachiket Mor, who is now head of …. drumrolls … the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation India. Since 2013 there have been several reports by US institutions on digitalization of finance in India, written with input from the Better Than Cash Alliance. One of the latest ones, by Boston Consulting Group and Google with “guidance” from Visa and the National Payments Corporation of India among other commercially interested parties, was presented in Juli 2016. It is notable for leaving out all the usual euphemistic talk about financial inclusion and talks instead of India as a “$500 bn pot of gold” and of what has to be done to “grab” it. It rather bluntly orders the Indian government to do this, that and such to help with the grab. A month later, the Indian government sets up a (Watal) committee to make suggestions and the committee suggests almost exactly this, that and such.

All this chimes very well with a recent Washington whitepaper ona “Framework for FinTech” in which it is clearly stated that US payment services companies are global leaders, and that this should not be taken for granted. The global leader with its  very large export surplus in payment services can expect to grab a big part of the pot of gold, if cash is put out.

I will write more about this soon the BCG/Google-report, the whitepaper and the committee as soon as I get to it. Stay tuned.  [17.1.2017]

About this blog: This is the English-language section of a weblog, which is mostly in German. There is an E-mail-newsletter that will inform you only of new English language entries. If you would like to subscribe, just click on “keep me informed” on the left. You can unsubscribe easily any time. To get a PDF of this blog-entry, click on the PDF-Symbol below the headline.

Abut the author: Dr. Norbert Haering is a German business journalist and blogger. His best-selling book on “Abolishing cash and the consequences” was published in 2016 by Bastei-Luebbe (in German). More … 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A well-kept open secret: Washington is behind India’s brutal experiment of abolishing most cash


In early November, without warning, the Indian government declared the two largest denomination bills invalid, abolishing over 80 percent of circulating cash by value. Amidst all the commotion and outrage this caused, nobody seems to have taken note of the decisive role that Washington played in this. That is surprising, as Washington’s role has been disguised only very superficially.

US-President Barack Obama has declared the strategic partnership with India a priority of his foreign policy. China needs to be reined in. In the context of this partnership, the US government’s development agency USAID has negotiated cooperation agreements with the Indian ministry of finance. One of these has the declared goal to push back the use of cash in favor of digital payments in India and globally.

On November 8, Indian prime minster Narendra Modi announced that the two largest denominations of banknotes could not be used for payments any more with almost immediate effect. Owners could only recoup their value by putting them into a bank account before the short grace period expired at year end, which many people and businesses did not manage to do, due to long lines in front of banks. The amount of cash that banks were allowed to pay out to individual customers was severely restricted. Almost half of Indians have no bank account and many do not even have a bank nearby. The economy is largely cash based. Thus, a severe shortage of cash ensued. Those who suffered the most were the poorest and most vulnerable. They had additional difficulty earning their meager living in the informal sector or paying for essential goods and services like food, medicine or hospitals. Chaos and fraud reigned well into December.

Four weeks earlier

Not even four weeks before this assault on Indians, USAID had announced the establishment of „Catalyst: Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership“, with the goal of effecting a quantum leap in cashless payment in India. The press statement of October 14 says that Catalyst “marks the next phase of partnership between USAID and Ministry of Finance to facilitate universal financial inclusion”. The statement does not show up in the list of press statements on the website of USAID (anymore?). Not even filtering statements with the word “India” would bring it up. To find it, you seem to have to know it exists, or stumble upon it in a web search. Indeed, this and other statements, which seemed rather boring before, have become a lot more interesting and revealing after November 8.

Reading the statements with hindsight it becomes obvious, that Catalyst and the partnership of USAID and the Indian Ministry of Finance, from which Catalyst originated, are little more than fronts which were used to be able to prepare the assault on all Indians using cash without arousing undue suspicion. Even the name Catalyst sounds a lot more ominous, once you know what happened on November 9.

Catalyst’s Director of Project Incubation is Alok Gupta, who used to be Chief Operating Officer of the World Resources Institute in Washington, which has USAID as one of its main sponsors. He was also an original member of the team that developed Aadhaar, the Big-Brother-like biometric identification system.

According to a report of the Indian Economic Times, USAID has committed to finance Catalyst for three years. Amounts are kept secret.

Badal Malick was Vice President of India’s most important online marketplace Snapdeal, before he was appointed as CEO of Catalyst. He commented:

 Catalyst’s mission is to solve multiple coordination problems that have blocked the penetration of digital payments among merchants and low-income consumers. We look forward to creating a sustainable and replicable model. (…) While there has been (…) a concerted push for digital payments by the government, there is still a last mile gap when it comes to merchant acceptance and coordination issues. We want to bring a holistic ecosystem approach to these problems.

Ten months earlier

The multiple coordination problem and the cash-ecosystem-issue that Malick mentions had been analysed in a report that USAID commissioned in 2015 and presented in January 2016, in the context of the anti-cash partnership with the Indian Ministry of Finance. The press release on this presentation is also not in USAID’s list of press statements (anymore?). The title of the study was “Beyond Cash”.

Merchants, like consumers, are trapped in cash ecosystems, which inhibits their interest” in digital payment it said in the report. Since few traders accept digital payments, few consumers have an interest in it, and since few consumers use digital payments, few traders have an interest in it. Given that banks and payment providers charge fees for equipment to use or even just try out digital payment, a strong external impulse is needed to achieve a level of card penetration that would create mutual interest of both sides in digital payment options.

It turned out in November that the declared “holistic ecosystem approach” to create this impulse consisted in destroying the cash-ecosystem for a limited time and to slowly dry it up later, by limiting the availability of cash from banks for individual customers. Since the assault had to be a surprise to achieve its full catalyst-results, the published Beyond-Cash-Study and the protagonists of Catalyst could not openly describe their plans. They used a clever trick to disguise them and still be able to openly do the necessary preparations, even including expert hearings. They consistently talked of a regional field experiment that they were ostensibly planning.

“The goal is to take one city and increase the digital payments 10x in six to 12 months,” said Malick less than four weeks before most cash was abolished in the whole of India. To not be limited in their preparation on one city alone, the Beyond-Cash-report and Catalyst kept talking about a range of regions they were examining, ostensibly in order to later decide which was the best city or region for the field experiment. Only in November did it became clear that the whole of India should be the guinea-pig-region for a global drive to end the reliance on cash. Reading a statement of Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, USAID Mission Director to India, with hindsight, it becomes clear that he stealthily announced that, when he said four weeks earlier:

“India is at the forefront of global efforts to digitize economies and create new economic opportunities that extend to hard-to-reach populations. Catalyst will support these efforts by focusing on the challenge of making everyday purchases cashless.”

Veterans of the war on cash in action

Who are the institutions behind this decisive attack on cash? Upon the presentation of the Beyond-Cash-report, USAID declared: “Over 35 key Indian, American and international organizations have partnered with the Ministry of Finance and USAID on this initiative.” On the ominously named website http://cashlesscatalyst.org/ one can see that they are mostly IT- and payment service providers who want to make money from digital payments or from the associated data generation on users. Many are veterans of,what a high-ranking official of Deutsche Bundesbank called the “war of interested financial institutions on cash” (in German). They include the Better Than Cash Alliance, the Gates Foundation (Microsoft), Omidyar Network (eBay), the Dell Foundation Mastercard, Visa, Metlife Foundation.

The Better Than Cash Alliance

The Better Than Cash Alliance, which includes USAID as a member, is mentioned first for a reason. It was founded in 2012 to push back cash on a global scale. The secretariat is housed at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDP) in New York, which might have its reason in the fact that this rather poor small UN-organization was glad to have the Gates-Foundation in one of the two preceding years and the Master-Card-Foundation in the other as its most generous donors.

The members of the Alliance are large US-Institutions which would benefit most from pushing back cash, i.e. credit card companies Mastercard and Visa, and also some US-institutions whose names come up a lot in books on the history of the United States intelligence services, namely Ford Foundation and USAID. A prominent member is also the Gates-Foundation. Omidyar Network of eBay-founder Pierre Omidyar and Citi are important contributors. Almost all of these are individually also partners in the current USAID-India-Initiative to end the reliance on cash in India and beyond. The initiative and the Catalyst-program seem little more than an extended Better Than Cash Alliance, augmented by Indian and Asian organizations with a strong business interest in a much decreased use of cash.

Reserve Bank of India’s IMF-Chicago Boy

The partnership to prepare the temporary banning of most cash in India coincides roughly with the tenure of Raghuram Rajan at the helm of Reserve Bank of India from September 2013 to September 2016. Rajan (53) had been, and is now again, economics professor at the University of Chicago. From 2003 to 2006 he had been Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington. (This is a cv-item he shares with another important warrior against cash, Ken Rogoff.) He is a member of the Group of Thirty, a rather shady organization, where high ranking representatives of the world major commercial financial institutions share their thoughts and plans with the presidents of the most important central banks, behind closed doors and with no minutes taken. It becomes increasingly clear that the Group of Thirty is one of the major coordination centers of the worldwide war on cash. Its membership includes other key warriers like Rogoff, Larry Summers and others.

Raghuram Rajan has ample reason to expect to climb further to the highest rungs in international finance and thus had good reason to play Washington’s game well. He already was a President of the American Finance Association and inaugural recipient of its Fisher-Black-Prize in financial research. He won the handsomely endowed prizes of Infosys for economic research and of Deutsche Bank for financial economics as well as the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Prize for best economics book. He was declared Indian of the year by NASSCOM and Central Banker of the year by Euromoney and by The Banker. He is considered a possible successor of Christine Lagard at the helm of the IMF, but can certainly also expect to be considered for other top jobs in international finance.

As a Central Bank Governor, Rajan was liked and well respected by the financial sector, but very much disliked by company people from the real (producing) sector, despite his penchant for deregulation and economic reform. The main reason was the restrictive monetary policy he introduced and staunchly defended. After he was viciously criticized from the ranks of the governing party, he declared in June that he would not seek a second term in September. Later he told the New York Times that he had wanted to stay on, but not for a whole term, and that premier Modi would not have that. A former commerce and law Minister, Mr. Swamy, said on the occasion of Rajan’s  departure that it would make Indian industrialists happy:

“I certainly wanted him out, and I made it clear to the prime minister, as clear as possible. (…) His audience was essentially Western, and his audience in India was transplanted westernized society. People used to come in delegations to my house to urge me to do something about it.”

A disaster that had to happen

If Rajan was involved in the preparation of this assault to declare most of Indians’ banknotes illegal – and there should be little doubt about that, given his personal and institutional links and the importance of Reserve Bank of India in the provision of cash – he had ample reason to stay in the background. After all, it cannot have surprised anyone closely involved in the matter, that this would result in chaos and extreme hardship, especially for the majority of poor and rural Indians, who were flagged as the supposed beneficiaries of the badly misnamed “financial-inclusion”-drive. USAID and partners had analysed the situation extensively and found in the Beyond-Cash-report that 97% of transactions were done in cash and that only 55% of Indians had a bank account. They also found that even of these bank accounts, “only 29% have been used in the last three months“.

All this was well known and made it a certainty that suddenly abolishing most cash would cause severe and even existential problems to many small traders and producers and to many people in remote regions without banks. When it did, it became obvious, how false the promise of financial inclusion by digitalization of payments and pushing back cash has always been. There simply is no other means of payment that can compete with cash in allowing everybody with such low hurdles to participate in the market economy.

However, for Visa, Mastercard and the other payment service providers, who were not affected by these existential problems of the huddled masses, the assault on cash will most likely turn out a big success, “scaling up” digital payments in the “trial region”. After this chaos and with all the losses that they had to suffer, all business people who can afford it, are likely to make sure they can accept digital payments in the future. And consumers, who are restricted in the amount of cash they can get from banks now, will use opportunities to pay with cards, much to the benefit of Visa, Mastercard and the other members of the extended Better Than Cash Alliance.

Why Washington is waging a global war on cash

The business interests of the US-companies that dominate the gobal IT business and payment systems are an important reason for the zeal of the US-government in its push to reduce cash use worldwide, but it is not the only one and might not be the most important one. Another motive is surveillance power that goes with increased use of digital payment. US-intelligence organizations and IT-companies together can survey all international payments done through banks and can monitor most of the general stream of digital data. Financial data tends to be the most important and valuable.

Even more importantly, the status of the dollar as the worlds currency of reference and the dominance of US companies in international finance provide the US government with tremendous power over all participants in the formal non-cash financial system. It can make everybody conform to American law rather than to their local or international rules. German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has recently run a chilling story describing how that works (German). Employees of a Geran factoring firm doing completely legal business with Iran were put on a US terror list, which meant that they were shut off most of the financial system and even some logistics companies would not transport their furniture any more. A major German bank was forced to fire several employees upon US request, who had not done anything improper or unlawful.

There are many more such examples. Every internationally active bank can be blackmailed by the US government into following their orders, since revoking their license to do business in the US or in dollar basically amounts to shutting them down. Just think about Deutsche Bank, which had to negotiate with the US treasury for months whether they would have to pay a fne of 14 billion dollars and most likely go broke, or get away with seven billion and survive. If you have the power to bankrupt the largest banks even of large countries, you have power over their governments, too. This power through dominance over the financial system and the associated data is already there. The less cash there is in use, the more extensive and secure it is, as the use of cash is a major avenue for evading this power.

About this blog: This is the English-language section of a weblog, which is mostly in German. If I deem a subject particularly important for an international audience, I either write in English outright, or provide an English translation. There is an E-mail-newsletter that will inform you only of new English language entries. If you would like to subscribe, just click on “keep me informed” on the left. You can unsubscribe easily any time.

Abut the author: Dr. Norbert Haering is a German business journalist and blogger. His best-selling book on “Abolishing cash and the consequences” was published in 2016 by Bastei-Luebbe (in German). More … 

German version of this article.

Follow up article: More evidence of early US involvement in Indian demonetisation

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment