Satyam chief arrested, board scrapped
Hyderabad, January 10, 2009
The chairman of Satyam Computer Services has been arrested on charges of cheating and forgery, and the government dissolved the outsourcer's board as authorities moved to limit fallout from India's biggest corporate scandal.
Ramalinga Raju, who resigned on Wednesday after revealing years of accounting fraud, was expected to appear before India's market regulator on Saturday.
In a late night development, Raju and his brother B. Rama Raju, Satyam co-founder and managing director, were arrested on charges of criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy, cheating, falsification of records and forgery, Reuters was told by SSP Yadav, police chief of the southern Andhra Pradesh state.
Officials with India's Registrar of Companies searched Satyam's offices and seized papers and electronic documents, the company said late on Friday in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Earlier, Corporate Affairs minister Prem Chand Gupta said the government would appoint 10 new members to the Satyam board, which would meet within seven days. There was no move at this time to take over Satyam's management, he said.
"The government is considering appointment of suitable persons as directors of Satyam," Gupta told a news conference in New Delhi. "We are determined to reach the truth but are equally concerned with the fate of employees and other stakeholders."
A Satyam spokeswoman said the company welcomed the government's decision, which would restore the confidence of all employees, customers and shareholders. However, she said Satyam had no comment on the arrests.
In a bid to ease investors' concerns, the Securities and Exchange Board of India said auditors' certification of corporate results from the December quarter would be peer reviewed.
The government barred Satyam's board from holding its scheduled meeting on Saturday, called to consider options such as inviting a takeover or strategic investor and appointing an investment banker.
Analysts said Satyam's very existence was threatened by the scandal, which stand-in chief executive Ram Mynampati said has pushed the company into a crisis of unimaginable proportions.
Satyam shares slumped to Rs11.50 (24 U.S. cents), their lowest since March 1998 and a far cry from a 2008 high of Rs544, before ending down 40 per cent at Rs23.85 ahead of the board's dissolution.
The company's market value has shriveled to $330 million, from more than $7 billion six months ago.
The chief financial officer offered to resign after Raju's admission that profit had been overstated for years and that about $1 billion, or 94 percent of the cash and bank balances on Satyam's books at end-September, did not exist.
"There's a big question mark over everything. We don't know what kind of business model they have now," said Amar Ambani, vice president of research at broker India Infoline.
"Raju's declaration says that at the operating level the margin was 3 percent, so at the net level it must have been a loss, which makes it extremely unviable. They have been borrowing to pay salaries, which means they have no cash at all," Ambani said.
The stock has fallen 87 percent in two trading days, pulling the broader market down. Shares in Satyam's main rivals, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro rose on expectations they would benefit from Satyam's circumstances.
Satyam will be cut from India's benchmark stock index, the Bombay Stock Exchange's 30-share Sensex from Monday.
Analysts said recent hopes that Satyam could survive by being taken over had been dashed, given the scope of the scandal and potential for big legal losses.
"The largest scandal in India's corporate history calls into question the viability of the company as an independent entity," consultancy Forrester said in a January 8 research note.
"As a result, s