|Born||29 July 1954|
Paneli Moti, Rajkot (now in Gujarat), India
|Died||31 December 2001 (aged 47)|
Thane, Maharashtra, India
|Criminal penalty||5 years rigorous imprisonment|
Harshad Shantilal Mehta was an Indian stockbroker. Mehta's involvement in the 1992 Indian securities scam made him infamous as a market manipulator. Although, as reported by the Economic Times, some financial experts believe that Harshad Mehta did not commit any fraud, he had "simply exploited loop holes in the system". Of the 27 criminal charges brought against him, he was only convicted of four, before his death (by sudden heart attack) at age 47 in 2001. It was alleged that Mehta engaged in a massive stock manipulation scheme financed by worthless bank receipts, which his firm brokered for "ready forward" transactions between banks. Mehta was convicted by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India for his part in a financial scandal valued at ₹100 billion (US$1.4 billion) which took place on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The scandal exposed the loopholes in the Indian banking system and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) transaction system, and consequently the SEBI introduced new rules to cover those loopholes. He was on trial for 9 years, until he died at the end of 2001.
Harshad Shantilal Mehta was born on 29 July 1954, at Paneli Moti, Rajkot district, in a Gujarati Jain family. His early childhood was spent in Borivali, where his father was a small-time textile businessman.
He did his early study in Janta Public School, Camp 2 Bhilai. A cricket enthusiast, Mehta did not show any special promise in school and came to Mumbai after his schooling for studies and to find work. Mehta completed his B.Com in 1976 from Lala Lajpatrai College, Bombay and worked a number of odd jobs for the next eight years.
Jobs, often related to sales, including selling hosiery, cement, and sorting diamonds. Mehta started his career as a sales person in the Mumbai office of New India Assurance Company Limited (NIACL). During this time, he got interested in the stock market and after a few days, resigned and joined a brokerage firm. In the early 1980s, he moved to a lower level clerical job at the brokerage firm Harjivandas Nemidas Securities where he worked a jobber for the broker Prasann Pranjivandas Broker who he considered his "Guru".
Over a period of ten years, beginning 1980, he served in positions of increasing responsibility at a series of brokerage firms. By 1990, he had risen to a position of prominence in the Indian securities industry, with the media (including popular magazines such as Business Today) touting him as "Amitabh Bachchan of the Stock market".
Grow More Research and Asset Management, with the financial assistance of associates, when the BSE auctioned a broker's card. He actively started to trade in 1986. By early 1990, a number of eminent people began to invest in his firm, and utilize his services. It was at this time that he began trading heavily in the shares of Associated Cement Company (ACC). The price of shares in the cement company eventually rose from ₹200 to nearly ₹9,000 due to a massive spate of buying from a set of brokers including Mehta. Mehta justified this excessive trading in ACC shares by stating that the stock had been undervalued, and that the market had simply corrected when it revalued the company at a price equivalent to the cost of building a similar enterprise; the so-called "replacement cost theory" that he had put forward.
During this period, especially in 1990–1991, the media portrayed a heightened deified image of Mehta, calling him "The Big Bull". He was covered in a cover page article of a number of publications including the popular economic magazine Business Today, in an article titled "Raging Bull". His flashy lifestyle of a sea facing 15,000 square feet penthouse in the tony area of Worli complete with a mini golf course and swimming pool, and his fleet of cars including a Toyota Corolla, Lexus LS400, and Toyota Sera were flashed in publications. These further exemplified his image at a time when these were rarities even for the rich people of India.
In criminal indictments later brought by the authorities, it was alleged that Mehta and his associates then undertook a much broader scheme, which resulted in manipulating the rise in the Bombay Stock Exchange. The scheme was financed by supposedly collateralised bank receipts, which were in fact uncollateralised. The bank receipts were used in short-term bank-to-bank lending, known as "ready forward" transactions, which Mehta's firm brokered. By the second half of 1991 Mehta had earned the nickname of the "Big Bull", because he was said to have started the bull run in the stock market. Some of the people who worked in his firm included Ketan Parekh, who later would be involved in his own replicate scam.
Up to the early 90's banks in India were not allowed to invest in the equity markets. However, they were expected to post profits and to retain a certain ratio (threshold) of their assets in government fixed interest bonds. Mehta cleverly squeezed capital out of the banking system to address this requirement of banks and pumped this money into the share market. He also promised the banks higher rates of interest, while asking them to transfer the money into his personal account, under the guise of buying securities for them from other banks. At that time, a bank had to go through a broker to buy securities and forward bonds from other banks. Mehta used this money temporarily in his account to buy shares, thus hiking up demand of certain shares (of good established companies like ACC, Sterlite Industries and Videocon) dramatically, selling them off, passing on a part of the proceeds to the bank and kept the rest for himself. This resulted in stocks like ACC (which was trading in 1991 for ₹200/share) skyrocketing to nearly ₹9,000 in just 3 months.
Another instrument used in a big way was the bank receipt. In a ready forward deal, securities were not moved back and forth in actuality. Instead, the borrower, i.e. the seller of securities, gave the buyer of the securities a BR. The BR serves as a receipt from the selling bank, and also promises that the buyer will receive the securities they have paid for at the end of the term.
Having figured this out, Mehta needed banks, which could issue fake BRs, or BRs not backed by any government securities.
Once these fake BRs were issued, they were passed on to other banks and the banks in turn gave money to Mehta, plainly assuming that they were lending against government securities when this was not really the case. He took the price of ACC from ₹200 to ₹9,000. That was an increase of 4,400%.The stock markets were overheated and the bulls were on a mad run. Since he had to book profits in the end, the day he sold was the day when the markets crashed.
On 23 April 1992, journalist Sucheta Dalal exposed illegal methods in a column in The Times of India. Mehta was dipping illegally into the banking system to finance his buying.
A typical ready forward deal involved two banks brought together by a broker in lieu of a commission. The broker handles neither the cash nor the securities, though that was not the case in the lead-up to the fraud. In this settlement process, deliveries of securities and payments were made through the broker. That is, the seller handed over the securities to the broker, who passed them to the buyer, while the buyer gave the cheque to the broker, who then made the payment to the seller. In this settlement process, the buyer and the seller might not even know whom they had traded with, either being known only to the broker. This the brokers could manage primarily because by now they had become market makers and had started trading on their account. To keep up a semblance of legality, they pretended to be undertaking the transactions on behalf of a bank.
Mehta used forged BRs to gain unsecured loans, and used several small banks to issue BRs on demand. Once these fake BRs were issued, they were passed on to other banks and the banks in turn gave money to Mehta, assuming that they were lending against government securities when this was not really the case. This money was used to drive up the prices of stocks in the stock market. When time came to return the money, the shares were sold for a profit and the BR was retired. The money due to the bank was returned.
This went on as long as the stock prices kept going up, and no one had a clue about Mehta's operations. Once the fraud was exposed, though, a lot of banks were left holding BRs which did not have any value – the banking system had been swindled of a whopping ₹40 billion (equivalent to ₹250 billion or US$3.5 billion in 2019). They knew that they would be accused if people came to know about his involvement in issuing cheques to Mehta. Subsequently, it transpired that Citibank, brokers like Pallav Sheth and Ajay Kayan, industrialists like Aditya Birla, Hemendra Kothari, a number of politicians, and the RBI Governor S.Venkitaramanan all had played a role in allowing or facilitating Mehta's rigging of the share market.
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