SINGAPORE — A high-level executive tasked with carrying out a retrenchment exercise was so stressed over the prospect of having to retrench colleagues that he pleaded with his superior not to terminate their employment, a court heard.
Three months later, Nagarajan Balajee, who was the head of financial and management reporting for digital banking at Standard Chartered (StanChart) threatened to publish sensitive and confidential data from the bank unless he was paid $500,000.
At the State Courts on Thursday (8 August), the 36-year-old Indian national was fined $10,000 after he pleaded guilty to one count of dishonestly misappropriating property and one count of making threatening communication under the Protection from Harassment Act.
Nagarajan had worked for StanChart for nearly 15 years. In June last year, he was asked to execute the retrenchment exercise, which chiefly entailed identifying employees for retrenchment.
“The accused was stressed at the prospect of having to retrench his fellow employees, several of whom had pleaded with him not to terminate their employment,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Etsuko Lim.
Nagarajan tried to persuade his line manager to discontinue the retrenchment, to no avail. He was told that the exercise was a necessary cost-cutting measure and that StanChart had measures in place to help those affected find new jobs, the court heard.
On 26 September last year, Nagarajan found a misplaced iPhone at the StanChart office at Changi Business Park. The phone belonged to the bank’s director of retail payments and had been issued by the bank for work purposes.
Nagarajan pocketed the phone, knowing that it belonged to someone else.
Threatened to disclose sensitive info
The next day, Nagarajan removed the SIM card from the iPhone and inserted it into his own Samsung J5 phone. He then used his phone to create an anonymous e-mail account.
Nagarajan created an article “Is Standard Chartered Bank failing in its Digital Transformation agenda?” and took photos of two confidential audit reports stored in a StanChart shared drive, which appeared to show that the bank had failed an internal audit.
He then e-mailed the article to StanChart’s global head of digital banking and retail, Aalishaan Zaidi, threatening to publish it unless he was paid $500,000 by 11am on 28 September. To prove that he possessed sensitive bank data, Nagarajan included the photos he took in his e-mail.
Nagarajan then deleted the anonymous e-mail account he created later that night. He discarded his Samsung J5 phone at an East Coast Park jetty three days later, on 30 September.
Aalishaan was alarmed by the e-mail, which “could severely tarnish StanChart’s reputation”, the court heard. He informed StanChart’s management about the e-mail and also made a police report on the same day he received it.
The court heard that the police “expended significant resources on identifying the perpetrator”. Among other things, officers had to compile a list of bank employees who had been or were at risk of retrenchment and conduct background checks on them. Officers also traced the IP addresses involved in sending the e-mail.
Nagarajan was eventually arrested along Kovan Road on 30 September. He was charged in court two days later with attempted extortion, which is punishable with between two and five years’ jail along with caning.
The maximum punishment for dishonest misappropriation of property is up to two years’ jail along with a fine.
For causing alarm by a threatening communication, Nagarajan could have been fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months.
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