Satyam’s Raju has been in hospital for nine months, evading trial even via video conferencing. Pushp Sharma got himself admitted into the same hospital and found the former IT czar ill, but fit for trial
B RAMALINGA RAJU, disgraced chairman of Satyam Computer Services, evaded US law by surrendering to the Indian authorities on January 7, 2009. For over a year, he has remained in judicial custody but has frustrated all attempts of the CBI to take the cases of economic fraud against him forward. Since September 2009, when his lawyers pleaded his unfitness on medical grounds, he has not put in a single appearance in court although his six co-accused have been appearing dutifully when summoned.
The CBI, in its probe into the Rs 3,300 crore scam, has collected all the facts it needs, submitted two chargesheets and wants to commit the case to trial. It just needs Raju to make a short appearance in court and plead guilty/not guilty. Once this is achieved, the unraveling of the tale of fraud and cheating to build a real estate empire for the Raju family can begin. But even in this high profile case, justice is being delayed, thanks to various devious means adopted by the accused.
On September 9, 2009, just before his 56th birthday, Raju, incarcerated in Chanchalguda Jail, complained of chest pain. Soon after, he was admitted to the Nizam’s Institute for Medical Sciences (NIMS). Doctors indicated even then that he could be there for as long as a year, as he needed treatment for Hepatitis C, contracted eight years ago. Usually, patients of this disease turn critical after 10–15 years, when there is a chance of contracting liver cancer. The liver treatment, doctors said, would start only six weeks after the cardiac investigations.
The game of evasion has been on since then. When Raju was arrested, the court had ordered that he was allowed to meet only his wife and son. In March, however, the CBI submitted a list of visitors who had met Raju in hospital. Shockingly, the number ran to 234 — from just December to February.
Despite this, Raju continued to plead that he was unfit to appear in court. On April 23, Raju did not appear before the fast-track court which was to examine the daily case-sheets and investigations conducted on the patient since March 31. The NIMS authorities had submitted that he needs to continue as an in-patient for another few weeks. The CBI said it was willing to examine Raju through video conferencing or any other means. The court adjourned the case until April 30.
April 30: Judicial remand of Raju and nine others was extended to May 7. The court asked for a fresh medical report of his condition.
June 7: NIMS authorities pleaded inability to prepare the medical report on time.
June 9: NIMS authorities did not make an appearance in court. The hearing on the CBI’s petition for videoconferencing was then postponed to June 14.
That’s where it stands now: 18 months after Raju’s surrender, the trial is yet to start. The cynical would say elite criminals always manage to get admitted to hospitals, where comforts like air-conditioning and food sent from home are assured. A far better option than spending 25 years in jail in the US, where a Texas court has convicted Raju of fraud, forgery and breach of contract in a case filed by British firm Upaid.
Around mid-May, when TEHELKA got hold of the CBI’s list of visitors, it decided it was high time the world knew just how ill and incapacitated Ramalinga Raju really is. The only way to do this was to enter the hospital and make direct enquiries about his health, maybe record his condition. We started the investigation on June 1. Damagingly, what we found was a man who certainly is ill with Hepatitis C, but also a man well enough to take a brisk, daily 20-minute walk and laugh and joke with nurses. On June 7, we finally got empirical evidence: under difficult circumstances, we captured footage of Raju walking through the corridor. With this evidence on camera, the question is, how much longer can Raju pretend he is too frail for a trial via video-conference from his sick bed? And how much longer can his friends cover for him?
This is how we got the story.
Finally, at 5.35 am, the door opened and Raju dressed in a white pyjama-kurta embarked on a brisk 20-minute walk
As the reporter assigned to provide this evidence with a spycam, I needed a cover. Since there are policemen posted outside his hospital room, one cannot just walk in. The entry to the VIP ward, called the Dr Muthu Ranga Reddy Private Rooms (MPR), is guarded by a locked gate. Since the CBI complained about Raju’s prolific visitors, security has been tightened. The only way I could get into that enclosure would be as a patient. That too a wealthy patient with a sudden need for attention from gastroenterologists.
Nizam’s Hospital is located in the heart of the city, bang in the middle of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and spread over 23 acres. I decided to pose as an exporter, one who was willing and able to foot a large bill just to get a diagnosis of the burning pains in my stomach. By a stroke of luck, the specialist assigned to me was the very same one treating Raju for his liver problems. I spun a spiel about my itinerant lifestyle, my travels to source goods for export. I explained to him that I hardly ever had meals on time, and that I tended to drink heavily in lonely hotel rooms during my travels. I was often stressed negotiating good prices and lucrative contracts. The good doctor agreed with alacrity when I said I wanted to be admitted for five days to a private room costing Rs 2,500 per night so that investigations could be carried out properly. Of course, I had other ‘investigations’ in mind.
Tehelka posed as an exporter in pain. All through Sunday, Raju had his wife with him. Money is a great cushion
On Wednesday, June 3, I was admitted to the private ward with 117 rooms, hoping against hope that I would be on the same floor as the former chairman of Satyam. The universe intervened. I was allotted a room on the ground floor right next to Raju’s Room No. 11, which had a posse of policemen outside. My ‘wife’, a colleague from the office too young to look like a real spouse, was told to stay in a hotel and only pick up my cameras every 24 hours for recharging. Now I had to gain the confidence of the staff and try to get some information on Raju’s condition. I knew that he was given to taking morning walks in jail, and hoped he would do the same here. Or was he too ill to leave his room, as his lawyers claimed?
Over the next few days, I chatted up 40-year-old Nageshramma, a nurse from Kerala, who talked of how Raju was relaxed enough to crack jokes. One was about cable TV being a magnet drawing her to the room. She said he was ill but his condition had improved.
WHEN WEALTH TAKES CARE OF HEALTH
Jan 12, 2009 After his first night in jail, Raju complains of chest pain. Found by the jail doctor to be okay
Sept 9, 2009 Raju complains of chest
pain, admitted to NIMS after first aid
Oct 30, 2009 Special court tells jail
superintendent to allow lawyers to meet
Raju at NIMS
Dec 5, 2009 Court specifies that Raju cannot meet anyone except his wife
Feb 25, 2010 Court seeks report on his health after he fails to turn up for
hearing on medical grounds
March 14, 2010 Court rejects Raju’s
bail plea on ground of health problems
April 26, 2010 CBI alleges he met 234
people at NIMS from December 12, 2009 to March 27, 2010
June 9, 2010 Raju again fails to turn up for hearing, nor do NIMS authorities
Apart from this, I cultivated two ward boys who had to attend to me on different shifts. I underwent an ultrasound and various blood tests, hoping there would be no sudden twist in my own medical history. I thought of the simple stratagem of softening up the ward boys by asking them to buy me food from outside — not only was this more suitable to a prosperous businessman’s diet but it gave me a chance to tip them. I told them that I used to work for Satyam years ago and would like a chance to salute Raju. I learnt that he pays Rs 75,000 per month for his room, Rs 80,000 for his injections. A princely sum for an under-trial.
I could not have found any of this through official queries but I still needed the breakthrough which would answer the questions the nation is asking. Then came a crucial clue: I was told Raju took a morning walk up and down the corridor around 4 am. This was my big chance. Next morning, I posted myself at the window of my room and pointed three cameras at different parts of the courtyard. First came a man using a walker, then a policeman. Finally, at 5.35 am, the door of the room opened and Raju emerged, a simple man in a white pyjama-kurta, somehow smaller than I expected, maybe because of the larger than life image he had projected. There was no hobble, no shuffle, no signs of illness except a darkening of skin caused by the medicines he was taking. His stride was confident, even youthful. Here was evidence that the man was fit, at the very least, to walk into a courtroom, sit on a chair and answer a few questions. If not that, then certainly answer questions lying in his bed.
But even a camera can lie when it comes to a man’s mental condition. Was Raju perhaps in a befuddled state, suffering loss of memory or confusion? From what I gathered from the nurse, the man who once went to Harvard Business School was very much in possession of his senses. The nurse’s retelling of the jokes he cracks implied a man fit in mind.
Once I had recorded this, it was time to leave. Locked gates and five armed policemen round the clock had not proved a deterrent. The whole of Sunday, my last day as an exporter with undiagnosed stomach pains, Raju was with his wife. Money obviously cushions you even when you are on the wrong side of the law.