Top bank executive cleared of corruption after 24 years

Seventy-eight-year old Kini served as executive director of the Union Bank of India (UBI) during 1986-1989. Despite the major legal victory, Kini betrays no emotion but is bitter about how his future prospects in the banking industry were sabotaged by a handful of disgruntled elements within the UBI.

Kini's greatest regret is that his wife Rajaramani is not alive today to share his victory - heartbroken, she succumbed to cancer around four years ago.

Shortly after he took over as UBI's executive director, Kini was slapped with internal memos by the then chairman, J.S. Bhatnagar, accusing him of making several "improper" advances worth a few crores  of rupees.

"I had replied to those memos, clearly stating the position and the matter ended there. Suddenly one day, bypassing norms, the bank handed over the matter directly to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)," Kini told IANS.

The CBI ruthlessly pursued the matter and summoned him regularly for "inquiries and investigations", taking him away from his responsibilities as executive director.

Meanwhile, Bhatnagar retired in December 1988, paving the way for Kini to take over as the next chairman.

"This was the strategic time that Bhatnagar and his coterie hit out. Even as my file was pending clearance at the centre for appointment as chairman, the CBI raided my house in Cuffe Parade - nearly three years after the case was registered against me and just four days before my tenure as executive director was to end," Kini said, recalling the murky politics in the upper echelons of the banking industry.

Kini's stunned family members handled the CBI raids since he was away on an official visit to New Delhi, but these drew a blank, both at the official residence and at his private residence in Chembur in northeast Mumbai.

He pointed out that it is not unusual for people to make all kinds of anonymous complaints and allegations against top bank executives because of vested interests, especially when they are in queue for bigger responsibilities.

"However, it is surprising that a respected and feared institution like the CBI fell into the trap and acted as an instrument of these vested elements to ruin my spotless banking career," he said.

The CBI raid ensured that Kini was out of the reckoning for the bank chairman's post - and he was reduced to attending the Special CBI Court in Mumbai every month for 24 years. He, however, continued to work with the UBI till 58 after which he retired.

"Earlier, I could manage it since I had the burning spirit to fight to prove my innocence. But in my 60s and 70s, it became a tiresome affair. It was virtual punishment for an innocent person and I was made to sit on benches for long hours among hardcore criminals," Kini said.

Finally, in April this year, the Special CBI Court Special Judge Vijay R. Sikchi exonerated Kini of all the charges pertaining to cheating and corruption, proving an embarrassing setback to the CBI's efforts to nail him for 24 long years.

Special Judge Sikchi acquitted Kini and six other co-accused of all the offences under Section 420 and Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code.

Kini ended on an absolutely clean slate - he was additionally acquitted of charges under the stringent Prevention of Corruption Act, Section 5(2) and Section 5(1)(d).

"I was unsure whether the vendetta would continue; so I   waited for a full four months to see if the CBI went for appeal in a higher court. Apparently, after 24 years, even they are tired of harassing an old, innocent and ill man like me," said Kini, who underwent three major surgeries for urological problems in the intervening period.

Even as an ailing Kini struggled to prove his innocence in the court for two and a half decades, his juniors and contemporaries rose to become national or private bank chairpersons, some were even appointed to the Reserve Bank of India and other top financial bodies.

Asked about his future plans, Kini said despite having occupied such a high post in the banking industry, there is no provision for any compensation in India.

"I plan to simply dispose of my private flat here and settle down in my hometown Chennai. I shall engage myself with some of the charitable institutions I have been working with for the past five-six decades.. For me, this is the end," Kini trailed off.

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