The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has not yet established the identity of the elusive Himalayagan Yogi, who advised former National Stock Exchange (NSE) chief executive Chitra Ramkrishna for years, deepening the mystery surrounding the issue now known as the colocation scam.
The CBI is doubling down on the investigation of the 2018 case in which the NSE faces allegations of providing a bunch of high frequency traders unfair access to speed up algorithmic trading. Market regulator Sebi issued an order on a February 11 that revealed lapses at the exchange and said Ramkrishna was "merely a puppet" of a person she described as a yogi.
The inconclusiveness about the identity of the yogi adds another twist to the case. In a letter to Sebi in 2018, former NSE chairman Ashok Chawla said the yogi is none other than Anand Subramanian, a former top advisor to Ramkrishna. Chawla later clarified that his writing was based on a forensic audit by consulting firm EY. Multiple media reports have since said Subramanian and yogi are the same persons.
The CBI strongly believes that while Subramanian may have created the Yogi email ID, he was not the one operating it, one of the persons cited above said. CBI is likely to file the first chargesheet in the case against Ramakrishna and Subramanian in 10 days, this person said.
All the people Moneycontrol spoke to did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.
Both Ramakrishna, who quit as CEO in 2016, and Subramanian were on the radar of investigators from the very beginning. The CBI began questioning Ramkrishna in February. The agency arrested Subramanian on February 25 in connection with alleged favours to certain traders. It arrested Ramkrishna on March 6.
Ramkrishna, who succeeded former NSE CEO Ravi Narain in 2013, initially appointed Subramanian as her advisor. He was later elevated as the COO with a pay cheque of Rs 4.21 crore a year.
The Yogi angle
During the course of the investigation, the CBI found that the emails were sent by Subramanian contrary to his claim at the time of interrogation that he wasn’t handling the email directly. The CBI sources said the agency is yet to conclude who the mysterious yogi in the case.
The CBI is likely to investigate more officials including officials at NSE and SEBI in connection with the case, the people quoted above said. The agency raised a question on why it wasn’t alerted by the NSE and Sebi officials about the scam despite the fact that CBI is the nodal agency for all cyber frauds. Sebi had given 2,500 emails to the CBI in connection with the case.
However, CBI sleuths have questioned the logic of the regulator limiting its action on such a big fraud case to just a penalty of Rs 25 lakh without flagging the scam to the investigators.
According to top CBI sources, the agency assesses that the Sebi officials too were party to the crime. “But, it was deliberately hidden. They should have informed their nodal ministry about these developments,” said a second person. Both declined to be named citing the sensitivity of the matter.
During investigations, Ramkrishna had admitted that she used to take spiritual guidance from the yogi but maintained that all NSE operational decisions were her own. Investigations are on to verify the actual facts of this case particularly to find out whether NSE's financial details and business plan were shared for misuse.
Back in 2015, a whistleblower had written to Sebi explaining the flaws in NSE’s colocation system, and how some brokers had exploited those flaws in collusion with some employees of the NSE. But, the letter wasn’t paid any attention resulting into immediate action.
Subramanian was the chief strategic advisor from April 1, 2013 before he was re-designated from April 1, 2015 until October 21, 2016.
Ramkrishna was accused of sharing information including the bourse's financial projections, business plans and board agenda with a purported spiritual guru in the Himalayas, Sebi said.
"The sharing of financial and business plans of NSE... is a glaring, if not unimaginable, act that could shake the very foundations of the stock exchange," Sebi said in an order, imposing penalties on Ramkrishna, the bourse and other top former executives for the lapses.Sebi said that NSE flouted the principles underlying the conduct of business of a stock exchange, pertaining to fair and equitable access to information. The NSE has failed to comply with the provisions of SECC Regulations in letter and spirit and Ramkrishna and Narain are vicariously liable for the acts of omissions/ commissions committed by the exchange during the investigation period, Sebi said in the order.