Monday, January 19, 2009

The lie in the truth of Satyam

Government only protects big ticket investors’ interest…

The Satyam scam tale has been un-ravelling for several weeks as of now. What started with World Bank’s debarring of Satyam from doing business, was followed by an unsuccessful attempt by Ramalinga Raju to make Satyam buy the company Maytas Infrastructure, run by his sons, for a staggering $1.6 billion. That unsuccessful gamble by Raju was his last attempt to cover up the mess he had created in the books of Satyam for years, just to keep the institutional investors and stock markets happy and to make everyone believe that Satyam is at par with its better peers like TCS, Wipro and Infosys when it came to profitability. If Raju could pull out the Maytas coup then the pandora’s box would have never been opened. But, when he realised that the company in which his combined share holding of 8 per cent was gradually coming down, as the institutions in which he had pledged the shares were selling it in the open market due to its falling share price, he knew that it was only a matter of time that he is removed from the mantle and anybody else coming in would have started with the scrutiny of the books only to un-lid the can of worms. So, he preferred to telltale it all by himself, even though it in no way reduced his share of blame for the fraud he has committed to the tune of Rs 7000 crore!!

But then all this should not appear astonishing to us even though it’s the biggest corporate fraud in the history of Indian corporate culture. But, aren’t we immune to such breaking news? Instances of insider trading and the popping up of penny stocks are not a new phenomenon in India. Starting from the days of Harshad Mehta, the common investor has got used to the cyclical nature of fraud that has become part and parcel of Indian capital markets. The only difference this time, which is unique and rare as well, is the honest confession of Raju. Reports state that out of the 5,651 companies listed on the BSE, almost 2,700 have vanished after swindling crores of private and public money. These swindlers are just not confined to corporate czars but also extend to politics. Most of the time it's politicians that goes scott-free, even after investigations and court cases. Did anybody higher up in the ladder get convicted in the fodder scam or the stamp-paper fraud, or hawala scam or the World Bank health scam to name a few? These scams were also to the tune of millions of rupees. The fodder scam was no where less than Rs 900 crore, hawala was of $18 million and the share market scam collectively was worth some Rs 5000 crore, and that too almost one-and-a-half decade back. Even in the biggest scam that not only blew off millions of rupees but also thousands of lives - the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson was arrested and let off in just one day!

It’s a foregone conclusion that Raju would be tried under stringent laws and that he should be prepared for a long haul behind the bars. But, the alacrity with which the government is acting, one wonders if it would have acted in such a manner had Satyam been not a US listed company and had big ticket institutional investors not burnt their fingers in the plummeting shares of Satyam. Is this alacrity to make US feel that the perpetrators who made US investors lose money would not be spared in India? Would government have acted in a similar manner if Raju were not to be high profile and had stealthily eloped with the small investor’s money through some chit fund? As Bob Dylan sung... 'the answer my friend is blowin in the wind.'


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