NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s federal police have questioned the former CEO of the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and her adviser as part of an investigation into suspected corporate governance lapses at the country’s biggest bourse, a police source said on Tuesday.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) police officials also visited market regulator SEBI’s office to collect documents related to the case, the source told Reuters.
The action is the latest sign the CBI is stepping up its investigation of a 2018 case involving allegations the NSE provided some high frequency traders unfair access to speed up algorithmic trading. The additional scrutiny risks further delaying a listing plan of NSE.
Federal police officials in recent days questioned former NSE CEO Chitra Ramkrishna in Mumbai and her then adviser Anand Subramanian in the southern city of Chennai, the police official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The NSE and SEBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ramkrishna and Subramanian also did not respond.
The intensified police probe follows a Feb. 11 order by SEBI that highlighted corporate governance lapses at the exchange. It said Ramkrishna over the years shared confidential NSE data and sought advice from an outsider she described as a Himalayan yogi.
The SEBI order said the former CEO “arbitrarily” appointed Subramanian as her adviser, adding he had “no relevant experience”.
In an interview to India’s Economic Times newspaper published on Tuesday, the federal finance minister said the government was probing whether SEBI took adequate action in the NSE matter.
NSE has said it is “committed to highest standards of governance and transparency”, calling the issue “almost 6-9 years old”. Ramkrishna told SEBI during the probe she did not compromise integrity of the exchange.
CORPORATE GOVERNANCE CONCERNS
The latest regulatory order is another major setback for the NSE that has struggled to roll out its IPO for years, having already been marred by allegations of governance lapses and technical glitches. The NSE denies any wrongdoing.
The regulatory order said Ramkrishna – who quit as CEO in 2016 – was “merely a puppet” of someone she described as an unnamed yogi in Himalayas who “would manifest at will”. SEBI has said the former CEO made “incorrect and misleading submission” about existence of a yogi.
A former NSE official said the regulatory setback risks delaying NSE’s IPO by several months, while one former senior SEBI official said the NSE must review all major decisions taken by the former CEO.
“It’s shocking, it’s very shocking. It’s brought down the image of the NSE,” said the former SEBI official.
The NSE, started in 1994, says it is the world’s biggest derivatives exchange in terms of total number of contracts traded. Ramkrishna joined NSE in the early 1990s and is credited for much of what the exchange stands for today.
The police source said both the former NSE CEO and her then adviser have been prohibited from leaving India for the time being.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi and Abhirup Roy in Mumbai; Additional reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)