Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Anatomy of a witchhunt

In March 2001, the BJP government presented what many regarded as the real "dream" budget- I remember one industry spokesman ecstatically giving it a perfect score of 10. Unfortunately, the stock market did not think so. It tanked.

Hell hath no fury like finance ministry scorned. It was convinced that the market fall was engineered and it was determined to find out who was behind it. Ten days later the Tehelka corruption expose emerged and it turned out that one of the journal's promoters, Shankar Sharma of First Global Stockbroking, had short positions in the stock market.

The law enforcement agencies descended on Sharma. He was arrested and jailed for a long period without any charges being established against him. In September 2002, Sebi cancelled Sharma's stockbroking license. Eventually, Sharma was acquitted of all charges. Sebi's order was set aside by the Securities Appellate Tribunal in 2004.

There was much scepticism about the charges against Sharma even then. Sharma recently used the RTI to obtain the trading data for the relevant period. It turns out that First Global was not even among the top 50 short sellers ! Business Standard has strong words on the way the Sebi conducted itself:

It has long been suspected that the cases against Mr Sharma and his company were not a result of wrongdoing on their part, but as punishment for having been involved with Tehelka. The fact that the cases were dismissed (one on technical grounds) supports this view of what happened. Further evidence to buttress this view has now been produced by Mr Sharma, suggesting that the stock market regulator had no reason to suspect the activities of First Global in the first place. Using the Right to Information law, Mr Sharma has obtained the trading data maintained by Sebi for the period in question. These data show that First Global does not even figure in the list of 50 largest sellers, from the middle of February to the middle of March 2001. That raises the question as to why this data was ignored by Sebi before it passed orders against First Global. Indeed, the prosecution lawyer was so unhappy with the case being made out that he withdrew from the case, in itself a telling comment.

If so, several questions arise. On what grounds did Sebi take action against First Global? Why do the concerned people show reluctance to address the issues that have been raised? Sebi’s continued silence on this matter will only undermine its standing as an independent regulator that acts without being influenced by the government’s political motives. Cases of state vendetta against individuals are not unknown, but this is the first case where the political authority seems to have influenced stock market regulators. Is it coincidental that First Global received Sebi’s adverse verdict during the tenure of the Vajpayee government? And that the appellate tribunal set aside that Sebi order a few months after the Vajpayee government completed its tenure?


dev2die4 said...

Now this article comes as an insight to people like us who have earlier written articles on Mr. Sharma like ---

But, even if he never did anything wrong in the Tehelka thing (according to the newspaper's so called experts), I still think these are early days to decide anything on this.

Bertie said...

With all due respect to you Mr. Professor, you seem like a congress dummy to me. Let me, if I may please, list down the reasons:

1)Your last post listing down the first case of a government acting against an individual. Wonder what you have to say about the Supreme Court lashing received by the UPA 'government' over CBI. It is regarding assets so it is your area of specialization all the way.

2)Previous posts 'highlighting' the failure of the projects undertaken by the state government of Guj.

3)I wonder why you never wrote about the investment in Gujarat in the recent years.

I'm not politicising this, just want you to cover some more ground.

Feel angered? Go campaign for Rahul Baba.

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