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BW Businessworld

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

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Days before the first anniversary of B. Ramalinga Raju's shocking confession on 7 January 2009 leading to a Rs 11,875-crore fraud at Satyam Computers, the government may be setting itself up for a limp strategy to pursue his prosecution. Strangely, over the past year, the entire team that was involved in the case — from the investigating officer to the corporate affairs minister — has been replaced, raising a question mark over whether this might weaken the government strategy to take the case to its logical conclusion.

Starting from the top, corporate affairs minister Prem Chand Gupta has been replaced by Salman Khurshid as minister of state (independent charge). Blame it on political compulsions — Gupta was a nominee of Rashtriya Janata Dal and party president Laloo Prasad Yadav became redundant for the ruling combine.

The then corporate affairs secretary Anurag Goel has retired and been posted at the Competition Commission of India (CCI) as a member.

Moreover, joint secretary Jitesh Khosla, who was in the thick of things during the Satyam investigation, has been shunted out to the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs as an officer on special duty (OSD). The most infamous among those removed was the then director (investigations) R. Vasudevan, who was recently arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) in another graft case. R.K. Yadav, OSD to former minister Gupta, has also been transferred.

The story does not end there. Ajay Nath, director of serious fraud investigation office (SFIO) has been transferred to the Ministry of Finance, while additional director K.V.S. Singh (the investigating officer and the man who cracked the case) has been repatriated to his home cadre Gujarat. Their tenure had lapsed in SFIO, but officials point out that given the gravity of the case, their terms should have been extended. The rule book of the Department of Personnel and Training provides for such an extension.

Click here to view enlarged imageCan such change of guard be a mere coincidence? Observers say that the government should have avoided this situation, where not a single officer from the original team remained to take the case forward.

However, one officer in this list who does not want to be named, says that this should not impact the fate of the case because most of the facts are already on record. The CBI has filed the chargesheet and the SFIO has already moved its complaint in the court detailing the frauds committed under the Companies Act. The officer adds that new officers dealing with the case may not be as passionate about the issue, and would certainly not be aware of the "hidden" aspects of the case — which were not recorded.

For instance, while Satyam was thoroughly investigated, the government never looked into the affairs of the twin Maytas firms, Maytas Properties and Maytas Infrastructure, officials dealing with the case told BW. "Only one company (Satyam) was investigated... Maytas should also have been investigated," says an officer. "This is a political decision, which the government should have taken."

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2009)