Case study of the Satyam fraud case

Satyam fraud case


Abstract: The Satyam Scandal and Subsequent Reforms in Indian Corporate Governance

The Satyam scandal of 2009, involving the revelation of massive accounting fraud, exposed critical weaknesses in India’s legal and financial systems. This case study examines the events leading up to the scandal, the key perpetrators, and the consequences faced by various stakeholders. In the aftermath, the Indian government implemented significant regulatory and corporate governance reforms to prevent such frauds in the future.

The reforms encompassed enhancements in regulatory oversight by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), including strengthened corporate governance standards and financial reporting rules. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs introduced a new Corporate Code, emphasizing transparency and accountability. Independent directors, pledged securities disclosure, and enhanced financial disclosures became focal points in corporate governance reforms.

Ethical considerations gained prominence, with a call for a cultural transformation within corporations. Recommendations included promoting CEOs’ moral principles, proactive board responsibilities, and ensuring timely and accurate information dissemination. Shareholder activism and institutional oversight were identified as crucial elements in holding companies and management accountable.

The case study underscores the importance of robust corporate governance, ethical conduct, and transparency in preventing financial frauds. The Satyam scandal prompted a significant shift in India’s regulatory landscape, setting the stage for a more vigilant and accountable corporate environment. Ongoing adherence to these reforms and a commitment to ethical practices remain imperative for sustaining trust in the Indian corporate ecosystem.

Facts of the case:

In the dynamic landscape of the Indian outsourced IT-services sector, Satyam Computer Services Limited emerged as a formidable player. Founded by Mr. Ramalinga Raju in 1987 in Hyderabad, the company swiftly evolved from a modest start with 20 employees to a global entity with operations spanning 65 countries. Setting unprecedented milestones, Satyam became the first Indian business listed on three major global stock exchanges – the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), DOW Jones, and EURONEXT.

Earning the distinction of being India’s fourth-largest software exporter, Satyam experienced substantial growth in the 1990s. During this period, subsidiaries like Satyam Renaissance, Satyam Info Way, Satyam Spark Solutions, and Satyam Enterprise Solutions were established. Satyam Info Way (Sify) further etched its mark as the first Indian internet company listed on NASDAQ. In the new millennium, Satyam expanded its footprint through acquisitions, global operations, and collaborations with international giants.

Noteworthy achievements included pioneering the Customer-Oriented Global Organisation training program, forging partnerships with Microsoft, Emirates, TRW, i2 Technologies, and Ford, attaining ISO 9001:2001 certification by BVQI, and establishing a global presence with offices in Singapore and Dubai. By the fiscal year 2003-2004, Satyam boasted total revenues of Rs. 25,415.4 million, marking a substantial financial ascent. However, the company’s fortunes took a dark turn within five months of receiving the prestigious Global Peacock Award, as it became embroiled in a colossal accounting scandal that shook the foundations of the once-prominent IT giant.

Chronology of Events Leading to the Satyam Fraud Case:

  • June 24, 1987: Satyam Computers is founded in Hyderabad.
  • 1991: Satyam debuts on the Bombay Stock Exchange with an IPO oversubscribed 17 times.
  • 2001: Listed on NYSE, marking a significant milestone as revenue crosses $1 billion.
  • 2008: Further financial success as revenue surpasses $2 billion.
  • December 16, 2008: Satyam announces the proposed acquisition of 100 percent shares in Maytas Properties and Maytas Infra, owned by Chairman Ramalinga Raju’s sons. The $1.6 billion deal is canceled seven hours later due to intense investor opposition, resulting in a 55% drop in Satyam’s stock on the NYSE.
  • December 23, 2008: The World Bank bars Satyam from direct contracts for an eight-year term, citing illegal incentives to bank employees and inadequate documentation for subcontractor costs.
  • December 25, 2008: Satyam demands an apology and explanation from the World Bank, refuting accusations that harmed investor trust but does not challenge the contract prohibition.
  • December 26, 2008: Independent director Mangalam Srinivasan resigns in the wake of the World Bank’s statements.
  • December 28, 2008: Three additional directors resign, and Satyam reschedules its board meeting to January 10. Merrill Lynch is hired to explore strategic options.
  • January 2, 2009: Promoters’ stake drops from 8.64% to 5.13% as institutions that pledged shares relinquish them.
  • January 6, 2009: Promoters’ stake further decreases to 3.6%.
  • January 7, 2009: Ramalinga Raju resigns, confessing to inflating the company’s financials by INR 50,400 million. The National Association of Software and Service Companies defends the Indian IT sector.
  • January 8, 2009: Satyam endeavors to reassure stakeholders. Class-action lawsuits are filed by law firms Izard Nobel and Vianale & Vianale on behalf of US shareholders.
  • January 11, 2009: The Indian government intervenes, appointing a new Board of Directors to salvage the company.
  • January 12, 2009: The new Board reveals plans to secure capital and sustain operations, considering options such as requesting advance payments from Triple A-rated clients.

Key Players in the Satyam Fraud Case: Unravelling the Deception

Principal Perpetrator: Mr. Ramalinga Raju

  • Mr. Raju, the mastermind behind the fraud, orchestrated the overvaluation of Satyam’s assets by $1.47 billion.
  • Falsified bank statements, created fictitious bank accounts, and fabricated interest revenue to inflate income.
  • Created 6,000 false pay accounts over three years, diverting money for personal gain.
  • The company’s worldwide head of internal audit contributed to the deception by establishing fake customer identities and generating fraudulent invoices.
  • Initially claimed sole responsibility but later implicated his brother, CFO, and managing director.

Role of Satyam’s Auditors: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

  • PwC audited Satyam for nine years but failed to detect the fraud, facing criticism for its oversight.
  • Did not conduct independent verification with banks, allowing the deception to persist.
  • Received double the payment compared to other corporations, raising suspicions of involvement.
  • Despite whistleblower alerts, the audit committee failed to act on the information.

Contribution of Satyam’s Board of Directors

  • The Board included well-known figures like Krishna Palepu, Rammohun Rao, and Vinod Dham.
  • Lack of a financial specialist on the Board raised concerns about its oversight capabilities.
  • Approval of Satyam’s purchase of real estate firms linked to Mr. Raju led to shareholder uproar and subsequent resignations from key Board members.
  • Failed to notice red flags that PwC missed and overlooked Mr. Raju’s substantial reduction in Satyam shares in the years leading up to the fraud’s discovery.

Impact of Satyam Fraud: Unravelling the Fallout

Victims of the Satyam Fraud:

1. Employees:

Satyam employees faced salary nonpayment, layoffs, and bleak employment prospects, causing moral, financial, legal, and social distress.

2. Clients:

Clients, including Cisco, Telstra, and the World Bank, lost faith, cancelled contracts, and sought alternatives due to concerns over project continuity, confidentiality, and cost overruns.

3. Shareholders:

Investors suffered financial losses, raising skepticism about India’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

4. Bankers:

Concerns arose regarding the recovery of financial exposure, non-financial exposure, and facility recalls.

5. Indian Government:

The Indian government worried about damage to the country’s image and the IT sector, impacting investor confidence and business operations.

Insights into Corporate Fraud:

1. Global Impact:

Fraud is a global issue affecting all sectors, leading to financial losses, distrust in financial disclosures, and damage to public trust.

2. Importance of Forensic Accounting:

Forensic accounting skills have become crucial in deciphering complex accounting manoeuvres employed to disguise financial statement crimes.

3. Corporate Governance Reforms:

Public pressure and regulatory actions have reshaped corporate governance, emphasizing transparency, honesty, and the prevention of structural weaknesses.

Legal Perspective on Fraud in India:

1. Definition under Indian Contract Act:

Fraud, as per Section 17 of the Indian Contract Act, includes false representations, misleading allegations, non-disclosure, promises without intent, and other fraudulent conduct or omissions.

2. Essentials of Fraud:

  • Perpetrated directly or indirectly by a contracting party or representative.
  • Intent to deceive or induce the other party into a contract.
  • Plaintiff must establish false promises, deception, and resultant detriment to seek redress in a fraud case.

Understanding Fraud Under Section 17 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872

1. False Representation: Fraud is established when a representation is made:

  • Intentionally or unintentionally,
  • Without a firm belief in its accuracy, or
  • Recklessly irresponsible, irrespective of its truth.

The essence lies in wilful deception, encompassing intentional misrepresentation addressed in the initial three clauses of Section 17.

2. Promise without Intent: Section 17 emphasizes the necessity of original intent when making a promise. Fraud involves promising without planning to fulfill contractual obligations, impacting various situations such as preventing third-party contracts, non-payment intent, and promising unattainable goals.

3. Active Concealment: Active concealment arises when one fails to disclose essential contract information despite a legal obligation. Passive silence doesn’t constitute fraud, but active concealment requires overt acts. Duty to speak arises when trust is placed, or a fiduciary relationship exists. Silence becomes deceptive when it substitutes for words, and change of circumstances or half-truths may also be fraudulent.

4. Any Other Act to Deceive: Given the limitless forms fraud may take, Section 17 includes a catch-all provision. It applies to any act aimed at deceiving or defrauding, utilizing unfair means for unlawful gain or loss to the deceived party.

5. Acts Declared Fraudulent by Law: Acts or omissions declared fraudulent by law fall under Section 17. The distinction between obtaining a contract by fraud and vitiation of contract performance is crucial. The latter is recognized for damages, not contract invalidation.

Burden of Proof: 

In fraud cases, the plaintiff must provide specific details to establish fraud beyond a reasonable doubt in civil or criminal proceedings. Every charge of fraud must be precise, and proof cannot extend beyond the alleged fraud. Fraud can be inferred from circumstantial evidence, overcoming the presumption of good faith, especially when parties aren’t on equal footing.

Consequences and Aftermath of the Satyam Fraud: Unravelling the Impact

1. Voidability and Damages: Upon deception, the contract becomes voidable under Section 19 of the Indian Contracts Act, 1872. The deceived party can either void the contract or demand fulfillment. If voided, restitution is owed, and damages can be sought under Section 64. Principles from Doyle v. Olby and Avitel Post Studioz Limited v. HSBC PI Holdings guide the court in assessing damages, ensuring compensation for direct transaction-induced losses.

2. Satyam’s Aftermath: In response to the Satyam fraud, the Indian government launched an inquiry, intervening with a new board to oversee the company’s sale within 100 days. The board collaborated with financial experts to devise a selling strategy. Tech Mahindra eventually acquired Satyam for Rs. 58 a share, marking a substantial drop from its peak valuation of Rs. 36,600 crore to Rs. 5600 crore.

On January 9, 2009, when Raju confessed, Satyam’s stock plummeted from an all-time high of Rs. 542 to an astonishing Rs. 6.30. Shareholders suffered a loss of $2.82 billion, and the stock, which peaked at US$ 29.10 on the NYSE, traded at approximately US $1.80 by March 2009.

3. Legal Consequences and Investigations: Mr. Raju faced criminal charges, including criminal conspiracy, breach of trust, and forgery. PwC, the auditing firm, came under scrutiny, impacting shares of nearly 100 PwC clients. The Satyam revelation, echoing Enron’s impact, led to a 5% fall in the Sensex index. Investors grew wary of PwC’s clients, causing share prices to drop by 70% for Satyam.

4. Investigation Proceedings: The Satyam scandal triggered investigations involving multiple authorities, courts, and regulations. Criminal charges were filed against various individuals associated with Satyam, including Mr. Raju, his brother, the former managing director, and the CFO. Auditors, including PwC, were detained and charged with fraud. Civil complaints were filed in the United States, and Indian politicians faced scrutiny. Pending civil and criminal lawsuits showcase the multifaceted legal repercussions stemming from the Satyam fraud.

India’s Regulatory and Corporate Governance Reforms Post-Satyam Scandal

The Satyam scandal of 2009 exposed the vulnerabilities in India’s legal and financial systems, prompting significant reforms. The aftermath of the scandal saw the introduction of several reforms aimed at strengthening regulatory frameworks and enhancing corporate governance.

 The key reforms include:

  1. Regulatory Enhancements:
    • SEBI Initiatives: Investors and authorities advocated for a robust regulatory environment. SEBI responded by augmenting corporate governance standards and financial reporting rules for publicly traded companies.
    • IFRS Implementation: SEBI reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of International Financial Accounting Reporting Standards (IFRS), aligning India with global accounting standards.
    • Corporate Code: The Ministry of Corporate Affairs developed a new Corporate Code, emphasizing transparency and accountability.
    • Class-Action Lawsuits: The government considered amending securities rules to simplify the process for shareholders to file class-action lawsuits.
  2. Corporate Governance Reforms:
    • Independent Directors: Emphasis was placed on the appointment of independent directors to ensure unbiased decision-making.
    • Pledged Securities Disclosure: Stricter disclosure norms were introduced, particularly regarding pledged securities.
    • Enhanced Financial Disclosures: Companies were required to provide more comprehensive financial accounting disclosures.
    • Board Structure: Efforts were made to strengthen corporate governance by separating the roles of the board and management, CEO and chairman, and enhancing director and executive remuneration practices.
  3. Ethical Considerations and Strengthening CG:
    • Cultural Transformation: Satyam’s collapse highlighted the need for a cultural shift within corporations. Companies were urged to promote CEOs’ moral, ethical, and social principles.
    • Board Responsibility: Board members were reminded of their obligation to act proactively and vigilantly, safeguarding the interests of shareholders.
    • Timely Information: Recognizing the importance of accurate and timely information, reforms aimed at improving information dissemination within companies were encouraged.
  4. Preventing Future Frauds:
    • Shareholder Activism: Encouraging shareholder activism as an effective means to hold companies and management accountable.
    • Institutional Oversight: Institutional investors and block-holders were identified as crucial in ensuring accountability.
    • Adherence to CG Framework: Strict adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the corporate governance framework was emphasized.

Conclusion: The Satyam fraud serves as a stark reminder of the impact of unethical practices and the importance of robust corporate governance. The reforms initiated in India post-Satyam underscore the commitment to preventing future frauds, enhancing transparency, and aligning with global standards. The case has propelled India towards stricter securities laws and governance norms, emphasizing the imperative role of ethical conduct in sustaining a healthy corporate ecosystem. Ongoing vigilance, adherence to regulatory frameworks, and a cultural commitment to ethical practices are essential to prevent similar frauds in the future.


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