Karnik says Satyam bidding process is open, but liabilities worry suitors

Written by Corporate Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 12 2009, 04:19am hrs
With just 48 hours for the board of beleaguered IT firm Satyam Computer Services scheduled to announce the name of the successful bidder that will acquire a strategic 51% stake, company chairman Kiran Karnik rubbished charges that the bidding process was not transparent.

In an interview with a business news channel on Friday, Karnik said, Accusations of non-transparency are shocking as the whole process is being overseen by the former chief justice of the country, SP Bharucha.

Concerns have been raised about the fact that one of the board members, Deepak Parekh, is also on the board of Mahindra & Mahindra, whose arm Tech Mahindra is among the frontrunners to acquire a majority stake in Satyam. Seeking to set at rest any doubts about a conflict of interest, Karnik said, The board will carry out the bid in a way that is proper. Parekh is likely to recluse himself from the decision-making process, he added.

Discussing the liabilities of the fraud-hit company, Pallavi Shroff, a partner with one of Satyams legal counsels, Amarchand Mangaldas, said in the same interview that all claims would not have to be borne by the company alone, but would be spread between the perpetrators of the fraud, including founder and former chairman B Ramalinga Raju, auditors PwC and Satyam. The company would be the last in line to take on the liabilities, she said.

Shroff said that going by past experience, a companys actual liability payout is only 10-11% of what is claimed. It is a slow process and it remains to be seen how the class-action suits will be decided, she said. While Upaid has slapped damages worth $1 billion on the company, there could be more class-action suits in the future.

However, analysts said the liabilities could make bidders nervous. The Satyam board has already specified that the company will not provide an estimate of the potential claim values or settlement values in the class-action suits. Though the bidders must have put their legal network to work to get an estimate, there will continue to be some disquiet, said an analyst who did not wish to be named.

The Satyam board has invited technical and financial bids for the company on April 13, and will announce the new owner on the same day in case there is a clear-cut winner. However, the process could drag on a little longer should the competitive bidding clause be invoked.