Court convicts ex-Satyam chief of fraud in ‘India’s Enron’ case
An Indian court on Thursday convicted the former chief of outsourcing giant Satyam and his aides over a US$2.25 billion accounting fraud scandal dubbed “India’s Enron,” the prosecutor said.
Byrraju Ramalinga Raju, his brother and eight others were found guilty of manipulating Satyam’s books in 2009 during the IT boom in India in a case that shook the industry and raised questions about the country’s regulators.
“All the accused have been convicted of almost all charges,” prosecutor K. Surender told reporters outside the court in Hyderabad, capital of southern Andhra Pradesh state.
Raju was charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and breaching public trust in a fraud that prosecutors told the court caused 140 billion rupees (US$2.25 billion) in losses to shareholders.
He faces prison for breach of trust following the years-long case and a trial in which prosecutors produced thousands of pages of financial documents and 200 witnesses.
The Satyam scandal erupted in 2009 after Raju admitted in a letter to shareholders to overstating profits for years and inflating the company’s balance sheet, a confession that saw the company’s share price plummet.
Tech Mahindra, a unit of Indian vehicle and farm equipment manufacturer Mahindra and Mahindra, bought Hyderabad-based Satyam in April 2009, saving it from collapse.
Raju, who was educated in India and the United States, was one of the stars of India’s software boom -- a key driver of the country’s economic growth over the previous decade.
“The concern was that poor performance would result in a takeover,” he said in his letter to shareholders.
“It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”
‘Like the messiah of IT’
The confession sent shockwaves through the industry, which had put Raju’s success down to dedication and hard work in Hyderabad, an IT hub that acts as the Indian headquarters of Google and Microsoft.
“Raju was like the messiah of IT for Andhra Pradesh back then,” said KV Kurumanath, an editor at the Hindu BusinessLine newspaper.
“He was looked upon as a god, and a big achiever,” said Kurumanath, who has been closely following the case.
Raju has been out on bail since November 2011 after spending nearly three years behind bars during the trial.
His brother, Satyam’s former managing director B Rama Raju, was also convicted, along with other employees and two former PricewaterhouseCoopers workers.
A senior investigator hailed the verdict and hoped the sentencing of the 10 later Thursday or Friday would act as “a big deterrent” to other corporations against misusing shareholders’ money.
“India very rarely prosecutes corporate fraud. And this is the biggest corporate fraud case in South Asian history. So for us, getting a conviction is a big victory,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Raju’s lawyers have told the court that he was not responsible for the losses and that documents filed during the trial were fabricated.
India’s equity market regulator last year slapped multimilliondollar fines on Raju for manipulating the firm’s shares during the scandal.
But the case raised concerns about why regulators, who were only prompted to act after Raju confessed, failed to spot the scam earlier, along with corporate governance issues and accounting standards.
“The biggest thing this reveals is the failure of India’s regulatory system,” said S. Nagesh Kumar, a news analyst and former editor based in Hyderabad.
U.S. energy giant Enron collapsed in 2001 in the wake of massive false accounting revelations.