Sucheta Dalal :First Global unplugged (1 October 2001)
Sucheta Dalal

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First Global unplugged (1 October 2001)  

Oct 1, 2001

Were Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra of First Global fleeing the country as alleged by the income-tax department? It seemed a little far-fetched to imagine the duo was leaving the country to avoid a tax claim. But what’s curious is a highly inflammatory and defamatory 68-page document released by First Global from its address [email protected]. (Incidentally, the firm’s website which made several tall claims on its behalf has now become inaccessible). The document titled ‘The Sebi Report Unplugged’ abuses Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), its officials and sections of the press. It’s possible Sharma and Mehra, who were caught taking off from Chennai to London via Brussels, didn’t want to be in India when their literary stink-bomb created a ‘tehelka’ through the e-mail network. Sharma claimed that he had gone to Chennai to wind up operations, but the Chennai office was allegedly non-functional since January.

Disclosure: First Global has filed a defamation suit against this writer and The Indian Express Group in the Mumbai High Court. The honourable judge declined to grant a stay against our writings.

About the press

The first instalment of First Global’s hit job (it promises ‘another scoop’ in 30 days) has some golden nuggets. It rips apart the ‘The Economic Tabloid’ but gives away its close friendship with the paper’s Mumbai bureau. It quotes a journalist saying that all the ‘false’ and ‘malicious’ stories are done by the Delhi Bureau under ‘pressure from the top.’ And then they get vicious, saying ‘Just copying FT’s (Financial Times) pink colour doesn’t make you (the Economic Times) FT. Try copying its character. And by the way, since you write such good fiction, why sell it for only Do Taka, or Rs 2?’ Incidentally, while First Global harps endlessly about the report ‘leaking’ to select journalists, it ignores the fact that an official report has to be submitted to the finance ministry and every member of the JPC. This columnist is attacked for ‘bovine regurgitation’ of the Sebi report—to lay readers this means that we got the report before the others, something that First Global, as chief financier of, should know is a scoop.

About Sebi

Naturally, First Global’s opus is a non-stop vitriol against Sebi and the government. It is clearly meant for those who do not have access to a copy of the preliminary inspection report and will be taken in by the sneering and innuendo. It twists facts to suit its argument, juxtaposes statements to portray a fake picture and downplays that which is uncomfortable. In the process, even the more valid points get lost in the general diatribe.

For instance, it continues to portray itself as an innocent victim of the tehelka expose, blithely ignoring the fact that First Global came under scrutiny on March 2 and Tehelka’s defence sting was made public only on March 13—at the exact same time that Parliament was discussing the collapse of stock prices.

Ironically, much of its strident criticism of Securities and Exchange Board of India’s supervisory failure is a regurgitation of what this paper has said over the last few years—and none of it was written under pressure of investigation or by ‘hanging around Securities and Exchange Board of India’s reception area’.

About those left out

First Global has a lot to say about those who were allegedly left out. Sample this: ‘Ever wonder why Anand Rathi wasn’t there on the original list? In fact, he doesn’t even feature in the Sebi Report! It was only the tapes that got him in.’ Since Rathi is being separately investigated this is probably an example of First Global’s ignorance.

It asserts that foreign institutional investors ‘sold nearly Rs 1,200 crore of stock on February 28, March 1 and 2. And nobody wants to investigate this?’ What then is Credit Suisse First Boston if not an FII. As also all the OCB’s of various FIIs that have been listed in the report? But First Global has generously sprung to the defence of Ketan Parekh and the late Nirmal Bang, in whose books it had a lot of transactions.

Its only additions are innuendo about DR Mehta’s charities and Sebi’s failure to stop stock broker Rakesh Mehta’s business even after his arrest in the Cyberspace deal.

Tailpiece: There may be some good news for First Global after all. The only person who merits positive mention in their hate letter is Prof Ajay Shah of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research. Since Shah is among those who has been offered the post of Member Securities and Exchange Board of India, may be he will accept the assignment and give them a fair hearing.

-- Sucheta Dalal