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Satyam scandal shocks India

8 January 09 15:29 GMT

By Karishma Vaswani
Business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

The Satyam scandal has shocked India.

It is being called India's Enron.

Many in the financial circles are dismayed that the biggest-ever corporate fraud in the country could have escaped unnoticed for so many years.

It has brought into question the levels of corporate governance in the country, and has cast an ugly shadow on the once shining image of Indian industry overseas.

Investors stunned

For the last couple of days outside the Bombay Stock Exchange, all anyone can talk about at the chai stalls and sandwich stores is how Ramalinga Raju, the former boss of Satyam Computers, managed to rack up a billion-dollar fraud right under their noses.

Investors in Indian shares were stunned by Mr Raju's revelation, in a letter to the stock exchange this Wednesday, when he confessed his wrongdoing and admitted that he had effectively cooked the books of his firm for the last several years.

Satyam's shares plummeted on the news by 75%, dragging down India's stock main market by 7%.

"I can't believe it," says investor Rajiv Gupta outside the stock market.

"It's very worrying, and it's happened at the worst possible time. Markets here were just started to look like they were recovering. But this news - it is very very bad."

Ashok Bakliwal, another investor, agrees:

"This will put the spotlight on Indian companies, and overseas investors will be wary of putting their money here without taking a good, hard look at the company's books."

"As if India wasn't going through enough of a bad time - now this? I really don't know what will happen next. How could a fraud of this magnitude take place and go unnoticed? "

What went wrong?

It's a question that everyone is asking.

The controversy has got many in corporate circles here wondering whether it was India's new found love affair with capitalism that led to Satyam's downfall.

In the letter to his shareholders, Mr Raju says that he was trying to cover up the losses at Satyam, and in doing so got caught up in a vicious cycle of lies and debts.

He says this attempt to hide the losses from investors and shareholders was like "riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten".

According to Mr Raju's statement, about $1bn (£0.65bn), or 94% of the cash on the company's books, was made up - and analysts say it was the manipulation of the cash flow which could have been one reason why the deceit was undetected.

Many analysts also say that the chase for huge profits, and the desire to keep up with the break-neck speed of India's $50bn outsourcing industry's growth rates that may have been behind Mr Raju's motivation in fudging the accounts at his firm.


But trying to get any answers from Mr Raju since his confession letter is proving to be impossible - he has disappeared.

A company spokesperson has been quoted as saying that his whereabouts remain unclear for now.

At a company press conference on Thursday, the acting chief executive Ram Mynampati told journalists that he and other board members had no knowledge of the financial fraud and were hoping to get back to business as soon as possible.

"Our only aim at this time is to ensure that the business continues," Mr Mynampati says.

But it will be some time before it is business as usual for the troubled tech firm.

Indian media is reporting that financial regulators have despatched investigators to Hyderabad to launch a formal investigation into the case.

India's main stock exchanges have announced they are removing Satyam Computers from their indices as of January 12 because of the stunning revelations

Leading members of Indian industry have also expressed their shock and disappointment that such an audacious act of deception could take place.

Chanda Kochar, the joint managing director of ICICI Bank, one of India's biggest lenders, says she is shocked by the news.

"It's a wake-up call - but I would like to say that it's important to remember this is an isolated event and shouldn't be seen as a barometer for the general level of corporate governance in India," she says.

"But it is also important for us to monitor the auditors and the other players in this scandal, and for us to become a lot more careful."

Investor flight?

But caution alone may not be enough to convince international investors that Indian companies are serious about cleaning up their governance

Many of Satyam's customers were persuaded to get into business with the company because of Mr Raju's suave, professional image.

The Western educated MBA graduate was one of the poster boys of India's new economy.

But with his whereabouts unclear, and investigations continuing, the shock waves of this scandal will continue to damage the image of corporate India overseas.

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