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When Satyam Became 'Scam Them'

February 2009
When Satyam Became 'Scam Them'

Commentators had a field day when Satyam, the Hyderabad-based IT company, became synonymous with ‘Scam them.’ “Satyam, Sharam, Scandalam!” shouted a billboard put up by Amul, the butter manufacturer. Another spoof noted, “Satyam, Givum, Thunderam!” An India Today cover, featuring a picture of the disgraced founder Ramalinga Raju, simply said, “I.CON.” The Asian Age called it the “Great Dot Con,” and inevitably, several observers made comparisons with a notorious corporate scandal in America. “India’s Enron,” pointed out several publications. The irony of Satyam’s collapse, brought on by massive fraud, wasn’t lost on Indians. The word means ‘truth’ in Sanskrit. Moreover, in what must now seem like a cruel joke or hoax, Raju was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007, and last year Satyam won the Golden Peacock Award from the World Council for Corporate Governance.

Seen as corporate India’s biggest scandal to date, it has turned Raju—formerly the pride of Andhra Pradesh’s IT sector—into a pariah. He and a few of his cohorts, including two brothers, are expected to spend years in prison. They are accused of cooking the books and diverting huge sums of money from the company for personal gain. Among other charges, as per the prosecutor, they are accused of using the firm’s money to buys thousands of acres of land, inflating the number of people Satyam employed by over 10,000, and forging fixed deposit certificates to show more money than they actually had.

“One very interesting thing that struck me about Ramalinga Raju when I spoke to his friends, former colleagues and relatives was that however seemingly modern and multinational Satyam became since the ‘90s, some primitive qualities never left him and his company,” wrote Sugata Srinivasaraju in Outlook India. “They say he was somewhat clannish, feudal and also dynastic? With Satyam's success, Ramalinga Raju started taking his status as an icon seriously, but was very unhappy that he wasn't spoken of in the same breath as Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji.”

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