Teledata in denial mode

After maintaining a silence and refusing to respond to a series of e-mailed questionnaires sent by Financial Chronicle over the past fortnight, Teledata Informatics woke up on Tuesday, a day after FC reported about the issues involving eSys, the alleged inflated earnings and doubts raised by auditors over the return on investment in the two of the company's subsidiaries in the 2007-08 annual report.

In a communication to the Bombay Stock Exchange, it denied the contents of the FC article.

"We will not be able to respond to this query," said a BSE spokesman, when asked if the exchange was taking any regulatory action on the Chennai-based Teledata Informatics based on its auditor's report that about 80 per cent of the company's Rs 6,636 crore revenue is reported to have come from its subsidiaries in Singapore, the balance sheets of which have not been audited for the past two years.

An official of the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) said that the ministry has not received any formal complaint against the company. "If there is a formal complaint against Teledata, we will look into it", the official said.

Securities and Exchange of Board of India (Sebi) officials were reluctant to talk on the subject. An e-mailed query sent to Sebi chairman C B Bhave's office remained unanswered till the time of going to press.

A spokesperson of the National Stock Exchange said, "We will get back to you if in case we have anything to say in this regard."

At last, Teledata also responded to FC on Tuesday but instead offering answers to any of the questions, it went on a flat denial mode. Through a fax message to FC, company secretary N Ramanathan said the company "at the outset denies the contents of the article".

Terming the contents of the article as "misleading, demeaning and highly defamatory", the letter stated that the "operations and affairs of the company are managed in the normal course".

The company failed to reply to any of FC's questions e-mailed to concerned executives of the company on January 16 (on the supposed sale of eSys stakes), January 23 (on the revenue from PC manufacturing and total business outsourcing), January 28 (a reminder to the earlier emails), February 2 (on relisting of Teledata Marine Solutions and Teledata Technologies) and February 3 (on the loan taken from SBI).

However, later on Tuesday, when contacted on phone, Ramanathan sought to explain away the absence of any response from the company to FC's series of emails attributing it to "want of time".

"We needed time to ascertain all facts, before responding to the queries and could not do so at short notice," he told FC, conveniently forgetting that the first set of mails were sent to the company on January 16, 2009 and FC waited for over 15 days, before it published the article.

There was no response from the Company or from Ramanathan to FC's request for information regarding a set of fresh queries sent on Tuesday about the status of the $ 80-million loan that the company had raised from SBI.

The loan amount was based on the valuation of $105 million for 51 per cent of eSys Technologies, Singapore.

However, according to eSys' ex-chairman and managing director Vikas Goel's affidavit filed in the Singapore High Court on October 3, 2008, the deal was worth only $60 million.

Teledata has raised a loan for $80 million, sanctioned by SBI, Chennai. SBI holds as collateral the 51 per cent stakes of Rainforest Trading Ltd (special purpose vehicle holding 100 per cent of eSys Technologies Pte Ltd).

When contacted, deputy general manager (merchant banking) of the international banking group of SBI JN Kerkar said the "loan is standard and is in order." He refused to make further comments.

Teledata's former auditors Chaturvedi and Shah have stated in the company's 2007-08 annual report: "We are of the opinion that the company has defaulted in repayment of dues to banks arising out from the invocation of bank guarantee which as on the date of the balance sheet stood at Rs 48.43 crore."

The auditors on Tuesday refused to comment on anything connected to Teledata because they do not handle the account anymore.

Teledata's bankers are State Bank of India, Canara Bank, HSBC, Vijaya Bank and all of them are based in Chennai. The break-up of the default in loan repayment taken from the four banks could not be crosschecked with the company.

Corporate rating agency ICRA assigned LBB- rating to the Rs 650-million term loans of Teledata, in its November 2008 report.

"The rating indicates inadequate credit quality and high credit risk in the long term. The minus sign appended indicates that the relative safety is marginally lower than in LBB rating. ICRA has also assigned A4 rating to the Rs 1,200-million fund based limits and Rs 3,660-million non-fund based limits of TDIL, indicating risk-prone-credit-quality rating in the short term," the report said.

ICRA managing director Naresh Takkar told FC: "We have already assigned a rating indicating inadequate credit quality. Obviously if there are fresh developments in the company that come to light, we will review our rating."

Share of Teledata lost 4.84 per cent or Rs 0.30 on Tuesday to end the day at Rs 5.90 on the BSE.

FC readers, some of whom said they were investors in Teledata Informatics, reacted to reports of inflated earnings by the company and demanded a Sebi probe.

"Where is the explanation to the points raised? All good companies call press conference and answer the questions raised. What this clarification (by the company) means without addressing the questions raised in the article," Prabha, who said she was an investor, wrote on FC's website.

"How can Teledata seek explanation to facts which are there in public domain? It is the turn of Teledata to reveal the facts and accept the reality. This cannot go on for long now", she added, urging investors to get together and present the case to Sebi and SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office).

Ruchit, who also described himself as an investor, wrote that some renowned audit firm should audit the accounts of Teledata and eSys.

Rajeev Sharma noted that he bought Teledata shares before demerger at the rate of Rs 65 in November 2007 and sold it at a huge loss after relisting.

On demerged companies, he said he called the company's Chennai Office umpteen times and was told it will happen soon and stopped calling them, frustrated by their responses.

Sharma said "Sebi should take note of the issues raised in the article and initiate an enquiry or we have Satyam in the making."

(With inputs from Vyas Mohan in Mumbai, Sarbajeet K Sen and Vrishti Beniwal from Delhi)

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