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Corporate May 24, 2012

The curious case of Satyam's never-ending trial

By Raman Kirpal

Hyderabad: As the clock strikes 9.25 am, a tall and lean man, wearing a clumsy look and leather slippers, enters a court room at Nampally in Hyderabad. Nine persons, seated neatly in a row in a dock meant for the accused, silently greet this man. He acknowledges them and sits beside them.

Exactly five minutes later, at 9.30 am, the judge enters. The accused stand up and give a slight nod in the direction of the judge. The tall and lean man's lawyer immediately pushes an application towards the judge, and his client walks out of court almost immediately with folded hands. The other nine accused continue to attend the court proceedings for the rest of the day.

why does a case that began with a voluntary confession need four-and-odd- years to seek a conviction?AFP

The first accused spends exactly seven minutes in court. Not a word is uttered before he leaves. The court's proceedings begin the moment he leaves the court room.

This is the fast-track court trying the Satyam case, and the tall and lean person is B Ramalinga Raju, Satyam's former promoter, who is accused of siphoning off hundreds of crores from his company by overstating revenues and profits.

The Satyam court, as it is known here, could not keep the Supreme Court deadline of 31 July 2011 for hearing the case. Nearly a year after the deadline, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate BVLN Chakravarthi now looks likely to finish hearing prosecution witnesses by June-end.

What was once called an open-and-shut case, since the scam began with Ramalinga Raju confessing to his crimes in letters to the stock exchanges and his board, is now set to continue till at least 2013. The defence lawyers have not even begun to present own case!

Ramalinga Raju had given his public confessional statement on 7 January 2009, admitting that he had fudged the accounts to the tune of Rs 5,900 crore on account of non-existent cash and bank balances and debtor positions in order to project a healthier picture of the company's financial status to investors. However, despite this confession, in the court he has pleaded 'not guilty'.

The CBI had filed its first chargesheet in the Satyam case on 7 April 2009, followed by two supplementary chargesheets. Ramalinga Raju, among others, was accused of a criminal conspiracy to dupe investors by increasing their confidence in the company by inflating the revenues and profits of company.

The trial happens every day without fail. All the 10 accused reach the court on time. Raju leaves within minutes of the trial commencing (on medical grounds), while the other accused sit in the dock with their laptops, apparently to track the documents and witnesses produced.

Court sources say this case had a huge number of prosecution witnesses when the trial began. The CBI had initially listed 676 witnesses and 3,600 documents. "In their zeal to present a foolproof case, the CBI investigators ended up making a very large list of witnesses and documents. By any standard, even if you give two days to a witness, the prosecution would have taken over three years to finish its own case in day-to-day court proceedings,'' a senior CBI official says.

The reality dawned on the CBI soon, and it brought down the list of witnesses from 676 to 226 and from 3,600 documents to 1,532. It realised that a case could be built adequately even on the reduced number of witnesses and documents.

The prosecution has produced 224 witnesses so far and they have also been cross-examined. The remaining two witnesses are being examined and are likely to be through by June.

The defence will take over after that. First, there will be the section 313 CrPC statements of all the 10 accused. Section 313 statements entail answering a detailed questionnaire by each accused. And then the defence will reveal its strategy. All the 10 accused will obviously give their statements in defence. After that they will roll out their supporting list of witnesses.

The case will go on for some months or even for another year, as it seems.

The moot point: why does a case that began with a voluntary confession need four-and-odd- years to seek a conviction?

by Raman Kirpal

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