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Govt scraps Satyam board, to appoint directors

The government on Friday dissolved the board of Satyam Computer Services and said it would appoint new directors as it sought to limit the fall out from India's biggest corporate scandal in memory.

Satyam chairman Ramalinga Raju, who resigned on Wednesday after revealing years of accounting fraud, which has called into question the future of the outsourcing company, will appear before the market regulator on Saturday.

Corporate Affairs Minister Prem Chand Gupta said the government would appoint 10 new members to the Satyam board, which would then meet within seven days. He said there was no move to take over Satyam's management as of now.

"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 a statement from the company on the developments was expected later on Friday.

In a bid to ease the worries of rattled investors, the regulator, 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, which was called to consider likely 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 11.50 rupees (24 U.S. cents), their lowest since March 1998 and a far cry from a 2008 high of 544 rupees, before ending down 40 percent at 23.85 rupees ahead of the board's dissolution.

The company's market value has shrivelled to $330 million, from more than $7 billion just six months ago.


The chief financial officer has also 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."

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 pick up clients.

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 the 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 Jan. 8 research note.

"As a result, sourcing and IT executives need to actively review their exposure to the company and their options as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the company.

"Both clients and employees will desert Satyam as a result of competitive wooing," it said.

Satyam specialises in business software and back-office services for clients including General Electric and Nestle.

National Australia Bank Ltd, Australia's top lender, said it was reviewing a contract with Satyam for system development and support to 2011.


The chairman of Larsen & Toubro, India's top engineering and construction firm, said the uncertainty around Satyam meant L&T had no plans to alter its near-4 percent stake in the outsourcer, which it built up in early January.

"When we invested, our idea was to strike some sort of go-to-market strategy, some sort of strategic alliance, if it was possible," A.M. Naik told CNBC TV18, noting Satyam's share price was about 188 rupees before Raju's resignation bombshell, far higher than the price at which L&T had bought its stake.

Naik did not rule out an alliance with Satyam once there was clarity on its losses and liabilities, including any from law suits. L&T runs a mid-sized outsourcing unit called L&T Infotech.

Several securities fraud class action lawsuits have already been filed in the U.S. on behalf of investors who bought Satyam American Depository Receipts (ADRs) in the last five years.

Source: Reuters


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