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The 14-year ban imposed on Satyam founder B. Ramalinga Raju and its senior management by the Securities and Exchange Board of India appears to be a logical conclusion to the ongoing five-year-old investigation into India’s biggest corporate white collar fraud ever. The word on the street is that SEBI has simply formalised a ban which has unofficially been in place since 2009 (it also seeks Rs 1,802 crore with interest from Raju and his cohorts). Raju’s family members are now trying to defend themselves from further legal censure. The CBI will deliver the judgement in the criminal case on August 11.
In the meantime, the man behind it all, who drove the $6-billion IT company (now a part of Tech Mahindra) to the ground with a huge accounting fraud, leads a quiet life in Hyderabad. Ramalinga Raju spends most of his time in spiritual pursuits or in trying to draw up alternative business strategies for sons Teja and B. Rama Raju. Industry elders wonder at how Ramalinga Raju is still a VIP guest at marriages. “If he stands in line to vote, it is news; if he goes to a temple, it is news; if he attends a wedding or a party, he is photographed. It is strange that Indians can treat such a crook with such respect,” says an IT industrialist.
Others say that Raju, who hasn’t had a formal day job since 2009, continues to lead his earlier lifestyle. “In the US, such people are ostracised, and rightly so. But here many continue to defend a man who wanted to build a legacy of wealth in real estate for his sons at the expense of shareholders,” says a former Satyam employee who lost his job after the scam broke. Some members of the Raju community say that the Satyam founder these days has assumed the role of an arbitrator in settling disputes between people in the community.
Since the Raju family is not getting into any business directly, Ramalinga Raju is said to be using distant relatives and associates to start some business, for instance in IT-enabled services, say sources who refuse to be identified. A medical-related service is being launched, which would be called ‘call medicine’. Since Teja and B. Rama Raju were already in real estate through Maytas Infra and Maytas Properties Ltd, there is talk of another business lateral named A-Z Services that will provide construction services right from conception to the end product, and would function in Africa and India. Besides, the family has leased lands in Guinea in West Africa as well as Latin American countries for cultivating orchards and fruit exports.
When Ramalinga Raju decided to write his ‘confessional letter’, he is said to have worded it in such a way that provided a legal escape clause. It remains uncertain whether Raju (and his family) will be able to pull that off.