The Satyam scandal, a major accounting fraud in India, unfolded in 2009, involving Satyam Computers, once a leading player in the Indian IT industry. The company’s founders’ financial misconduct led to its downfall, sparking debates on the CEO’s role, interactions with the Board of Directors, and the importance of corporate governance. This controversy emphasized the need for robust auditing committee standards and board member responsibilities. The abrupt demise of Satyam had a profound impact on the market, particularly affecting investors and tarnishing India’s global reputation. So, let’s delve into the topic by understanding what is Satyam scam.

What is Satyam Scam?

The “Satyam scam” refers to the massive corporate fraud that Satyam Computer Services’ founder and chairman, Ramalinga Raju, perpetrated in 2009. In the company’s books, he acknowledged inflating sales, earnings, cash balances, and employee counts. He also admitted to stealing money for his own purposes from the company. The Satyam scam was once thought to be the biggest commercial scandal in India, valued at around Rs. 7800 crores.

The Satyam case exposed a deficiency in one of the biggest IT companies in India in terms of corporate governance, auditing standards, regulatory oversight, and ethical behaviour. Additionally, it undermined the trust and confidence of stakeholders, customers, employees, and investors in the Indian IT sector. Serious repercussions flowed from the Satyam Computers scam for the company, its auditors, its board of directors, and its investors.

Knowing the Satyam Scandal—India’s Largest Accounting Fraud

The Satyam Computers scandal stands out as a severe crisis in India, causing widespread repercussions in the business realm. Ramalinga Raju, the founder and chairman, confessed to manipulating the company’s accounts in 2009, shocking investors, employees, and regulators, tarnishing both Satyam’s and India’s corporate reputation.

The scam was a carefully orchestrated scheme by Raju and a few collaborators who fabricated sales, earnings, and cash levels, creating a false impression of financial success. Manipulating bank statements, forging invoices, and inflating customer figures were integral to their deceptive tactics. Auditors, responsible for safeguarding shareholders’ interests, failed to detect these irregularities, exposing flaws in corporate governance.

The aftermath was severe, with stock prices plummeting and substantial financial losses for investors. Satyam struggled, leading to uncertainty for thousands of employees. The scandal eroded trust among local and foreign investors in India’s business sector, raising concerns about transparency, accountability, and ethical standards. The Indian government intervened to prevent Satyam’s collapse, and Tech Mahindra eventually acquired the company, initiating a long recovery process. This incident prompted significant reforms in Indian regulatory oversight, corporate governance, accounting practices, and audit regulations.

The Satyam controversy underscores the critical importance of robust regulatory supervision, ethical conduct, and effective corporate governance in maintaining confidence and integrity in the business world.

The significant role played by Mr. Raju in the Satyam Fraud Case

  • Mr. Raju had alleged that he overvalued Satyam’s assets by $1.47 billion on the balance sheet. The corporation claimed to hold about $1.04 billion in bank loans and cash, but none of it existed. Satyam’s obligations were similarly understated on its balance sheet. 
  • In order to meet analyst expectations, Satyam exaggerated income almost every quarter for a number of years. Mr. Raju created numerous fraudulent bank statements to support the scam. 
  • Mr. Raju fabricated bank accounts in order to inflate the balance sheet with fictitious funds. By claiming interest revenue from the fictitious bank accounts, he inflated his income statement.
  • Mr. Raju further said that during the last three years (2006–2008), he created 6,000 false pay accounts and took the money when the corporation deposited it. To exaggerate revenue, the company’s worldwide head of internal audit established fake customer identities and made fraudulent invoices in their names. 
  • In addition, the company’s worldwide head of internal audit faked board decisions and received financing unlawfully. It had also appeared that the funds obtained in the United states through American Depository Receipts (‘ADRs’) never made it to the company’s balance sheets.
  • Mr. Raju initially claimed that he did not divert any funds to his personal accounts and that the company was not as profitable as it had claimed. However, during subsequent interrogations, Mr. Raju revealed that he had diverted a large sum of money to other companies that he owned and that he had been doing so since 2004. 
  • Mr. Raju first claimed that he was the sole perpetrator of the scam. However, Indian authorities have also prosecuted Mr. Raju’s brother, the company’s CFO, the company’s worldwide head of internal audit, and one of the company’s managing directors, as previously mentioned.

The Satyam Board of Director’s involvement in the fraud

  • Satyam’s Board of Directors had nine members, with five designated as independent, as per Indian listing rules.
  • Regulatory filings with the SEC revealed the absence of a financial specialist on the Board in 2008.
  • Concerns arose about the Board’s independence, possibly influenced by well-known corporate figures like Krishna Palepu, Rommohan Rao, and Vinod Dham.
  • On December 16, 2008, the Board faced criticism for approving Satyam’s real estate purchase linked to Mr. Raju. After a shareholder revolt, the approval was revoked, leading to the resignation of Palepu, Rao, and Dham within two days.
  • The failed deal raised doubts among investors about the Board’s active monitoring of Satyam, and it highlighted the Board’s failure to notice red flags missed by PwC, the auditor.
  • Raju’s substantial reduction in Satyam shares three years before the fraud’s discovery should have raised concerns for the Board.
  • Raju’s stake in the company decreased from 15.67 percent in 2005-2006 to 2.3 percent in 2009.

Elements that influenced the Satyam money laundering case

There were several reasons behind the Satyam scam. The following is a summary of the elements that went into the fraud:

  • Greed
  • Ambitious corporate growth.
  • Deceptive reporting practices, and lack of transparency.
  • Excessive interest in maintaining stock prices.
  • Executive incentives.
  • Stock market expectations.
  • Nature of accounting rules.
  • ESOPs issued to those who prepared fake bills.
  • High-risk deals that went sour.
  • Audit failures (both Internal & External).
  • The aggressiveness of investment banks, commercial banks,.
  • Rating agencies & investors.
  • Weak Independent directors and Audit committee.
  • Whistleblower policy not being effective.

The corporate world frequently observes fraud cases.

Fraud is a widespread problem that affects people and organisations worldwide in a variety of areas. Every organisation, no matter its size, is vulnerable to fraud, particularly when it comes to financial reporting, which can have a negative impact on the business, stakeholders, and public confidence in the capital markets. Corporate accounting fraud has become a persistent worry since the Enron scandal, which raised awareness. Due to the increasing frequency of financial crimes globally, this phenomena causes significant financial losses, undermines investor trust, and casts doubt on the integrity of financial disclosures. The Satyam scam brought to light how important corporate governance is in establishing the responsibilities of board members and audit committee standards.

Factors that constitute fraud under Section 17 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872

  1. Establishing facts without being convinced of their accuracy

Fraud is established when it is demonstrated that a false representation was made;

  1. either intentionally or unintentionally,
  2. without a firm trust in its accuracy, or
  3. irresponsibly irresponsible, regardless of whether it is true or not.”

As a result, the core of fraud is willful deception, which is dealt with in the first three clauses of Section 17.

  1. Promise without planning to keep the contractual obligations

Section 17 states that the original purpose of not executing the promise made is a required element of fraud and that such an intention cannot be inferred. The fraud anticipated by this provision is one that occurs at the outset of the transaction and does not involve any later activity or representation on the part of the party or their representative. This clause applies to a variety of situations, including,

  1. When one party contracts with another without the intent to perform in order to prevent the other from contracting with a third party,
  2. Contracting without the intent to pay the agreed consideration, and 
  3. One party promises the other something that he or she is certain he or she will not be able to accomplish within the contractual period.
  4. Active concealment.

The Supreme Court maintained in Avitel Post Studioz Limited and Ors. v. HSBC PI Holdings (Mauritius) Limited and Ors (2020) that “Section 17 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 only applies if the contract is secured by fraud or deception.” However, there is a distinction to be made between obtaining a contract by fraud and having a contract’s performance (which is entirely legitimate) vitiated by fraud or deceit. The latter would fall outside the jurisdiction of Section 17 of the 1872 Act, which allows for damages but not for recognizing the contract as invalid.

Government Response to the Satyam Fraud

The Satyam fraud case taught India a lot. Indian law is continually evolving. However, this is how the government responded to the Satyam Scam:

Companies Act The Companies Act of 2013 became operative upon the repeal of the Companies Act of 1956. The new act makes corporate fraud a criminal crime. Cost accountants, auditors, and corporate secretaries are all specifically defined and named in the Act as being required to report Satyam wrongdoing.A new rule pertaining to auditor rotation was also put into effect, mandating that audit firms and auditors be switched after ten years and every five years, respectively. Additionally, it specifies that the Board of Directors’ Report should contain the Director’s Responsibility Statement.
ICAI- The Institute of Chartered Accountants of IndiaIn its audit report, the accounting organisation emphasised the auditors’ thorough reporting of fictitious assets and contingent liabilities.
SEBIThe SEBI Regulations 2015 (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) were enacted, and they established criteria for reporting actual and suspected frauds and disclosing important events that influence the decision-making ability of investors.
Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) This regulatory authority, constituted under the administration of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, was given the status of a statutory organization under the Companies Act of 2013. In India, it looks into business and accounting fraud.Corporate governance best practices have become an urgent


A special court has sentenced B. Ramalinga Raju, founder of Satyam Computer Services Ltd, and nine others to seven years of rigorous imprisonment in India’s largest corporate fraud case. The verdict came at the end of a lengthy trial in Hyderabad, where Satyam was based. The court found the accused guilty of collaborating to inflate revenue, fabricate invoices, falsify accounts, and engage in criminal conspiracy and cheating. The judgement emphasized the gravity of the offenses, affecting the reputation of the corporate system and the country’s economy. The accused, including Ramalinga Raju and his brother Rama Raju, were fined up to ₹5.5 crore each. They will appeal to a higher court, as confirmed by their lawyer. The court’s decision is significant in curbing corporate fraud and will serve as a deterrent, although some believe the penalties could have been more severe. The case arose after the revelation of Satyam’s accounting fraud in 2009, leading to the company’s sale and eventual merger with Tech Mahindra.

The Supreme Court had earlier in December 2017 rejected the ED’s appeal seeking to make Tech Mahindra liable for the alleged money-laundering of over `820 crore by erstwhile Satyam Computer Services. The top court had upheld the high court’s 2014 judgment that ruled that Tech Mahindra cannot be fastened with criminal liability of Satyam.


In conclusion, the Satyam accounting fraud of 2009 serves as a stark reminder that human avarice, ambition, and the pursuit of power, money, fame, and glory can significantly impact ethical conduct. The series of scandals emphasizes the urgent need for exemplary behavior rooted in robust corporate governance, ethical principles, and stringent accounting and auditing standards. The Satyam case, particularly in emerging nations, underscores the critical role of securities laws and corporate governance. The government of India, prompted by the Satyam fraud, has taken proactive measures to enhance corporate governance norms and prevent the recurrence of similar frauds in the future. It is imperative to thoroughly investigate significant financial reporting frauds, extracting valuable takeaways and best practices to mitigate the likelihood of similar incidents in the future.

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