India's top private sector lenders ICICI Bank Ltd, HDFC Bank Ltd and Axis Bank Ltd said they were investigating allegations, made in sting by independent investigative journalist, Aniruddha Bahal of Cobrapost, about the widespread money laundering practices at their branches.
Bahal, founder and editor-in-chief of Indian news and opinion website Cobrapost.com, said he had collected hundreds of hours of video recordings from "dozens and dozens" of bank branches across the country. He did not say when the recordings were compiled.
The shares of the banks fell briefly on Thursday after Bahal made the accusations in a news conference televised by a local TV station in the morning.
An article on the website posted on Thursday said an associate editor, using an alias and pretending to work for a fictitious politician who wanted to launder money, sought advice from bank officials on how to do it.
The article said branches across all the three banks suggested laundering methods that were "imaginative in their range and brazen in their approach."
In one case, Bahal said, a video excerpt on his website showed an HDFC Bank official explaining to an undercover reporter for Cobrapost.com different methods to launder money.
It said Cobrapost.com offered to hand over the videos to law enforcement officials or regulators. The article did not say if the recordings were eventually passed on to the authorities.
Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India had no comment on the matter, according to a spokesman.
ICICI Bank said that it was "deeply concerned" about the accusations.
In a statement, it said: "ICICI Group conducts its business with the highest level of compliance to legal and regulatory requirements. All employees of the Group are trained and required to adhere strictly to the Group Code of Conduct... We have demonstrated our commitment to this by following a zero tolerance policy towards any violation."
"We have constituted a high level inquiry committee to investigate into the matter and submit its findings in two weeks."
HDFC Bank was investigating the matter on "top priority."
"Any deviation is viewed very seriously and stringent action is taken both at an organizational and employee level," the bank said