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How EY sleuths tracked down a 'Himalayan yogi'

The EY probe concluded that the narrative of the yogi was spun by its creator Anand Subramanian, the former chief operating officer of NSE.Premium
The EY probe concluded that the narrative of the yogi was spun by its creator Anand Subramanian, the former chief operating officer of NSE.

  • EY’s forensic team and the NSE were both convinced Subramanian was impersonating as the mystic
  • Sebi dismissed the findings of the EY team, saying the identity of the unnamed yogi was still inconclusive. The pertinent question: why did Sebi not find merit in any of EY’s arguments?

BENGALURU : For nearly 18 months, about a dozen executives from the forensic team of consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY) went about investigating the true identity of the Himalayan yogi, the mystic who called the shots at the National Stock Exchange (NSE) between 2013 and 2016. They called it ‘Project Apostle’.

Chitra Ramkrishna, the former boss of the NSE, has claimed that this yogi was her spiritual guru. She was guided by the mystic with whom she shared confidential information relating to the exchange. In a 70-page report, EY concluded that the narrative of the yogi was spun by its creator Anand Subramanian, the former chief operating officer, whose appointment had initially raised eyebrows, particularly since he had little or no experience in the financial sector.

EY submitted its report to the board of the NSE on 5 July 2018. Subsequently, Ashok Chawla, the then chairman, told the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), that the NSE was convinced that Subramanian was impersonating the unnamed yogi.

“Multiple drafts of this report were regularly submitted to the then board," said an executive on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media. “Once we were done with the email discovery process, we submitted one report to the board. Then after the phone call records and Skype profile were analysed, we submitted another draft. Post looking into the bank records, yet another one. The multiple draft reports were then put together as part of the final report submitted in July 2018," the executive added.

The EY investigation was commissioned by the NSE board in September 2016.

Until now, the contents of the EY report, which scanned the desktops of both Ramkrishna and Subramanian, and went over emails of over 3,000 current and former employees of the NSE, have neither been revealed in the Sebi’s 190-page order released this year, nor been made public. Significantly, a little over half of this EY report comprises documents, including bank statements, phone records, snapshots of Word and Excel files and geotagged images to prove the location of the unnamed person.

And yet, Sebi, in its order, dismissed the findings of the EY team, saying the identity of the unnamed yogi was inconclusive.

Mint went through the contents of this 44-month-old report and also spoke with two executives directly familiar with the report’s preparation to piece together this narrative. It raises a pertinent question: why did Sebi not find merit in any of EY’s arguments?

The database match

EY’s conclusion was based on five key points–none of which find any mention in the 11 February order by Sebi.

First, EY searched for rigyajursama@outlook.com on all emails available at the NSE exchange server between January 2000 and May 2018—the Himalayan yogi went by the title ‘Rigyajursama’. rigyajursama@outlook.com is the yogi’s email id.

The report noted that except for two, all communication from this email id were with three NSE personnel—Chitra Ramkrishna, Anand Subramanian and Sunita Anand.

Sunita Anand is the wife of Subramanian and was also an employee of the NSE.

Within an enterprise like the NSE, an email exchange server is a repository of all official emails. Even if an employee deletes an email from his local machine, a copy of the communication sits within the codes running in souped-up computer machines, commonly called a server room.

Ramkrishna told Sebi that the Himalayan yogi was her spiritual north star for two decades. However, EY’s email analysis of over 18 years revealed that rigyajursama@outlook.com appeared in the exchange’s database only between 2013 and 2016.

Here, it is important to mention that Subramanian was initially hired by Ramkrishna in April 2013 as a consultant and subsequently elevated to the role of the chief operating officer two years later. The board asked Ramkrishna to oust him on 21 October 2016.

“This exercise of categorization of emails and performing a disk imaging service of all current and former employees was probably the longest–it took almost four months to complete this exercise," said the second executive Mint spoke to.

The forensics team found a total of 569 emails featuring rigyajursama@outlook.com between October 2013 and December 2016. Bulk of the emails were generated in 2015 (39%) and 2016 (48%).

Skype trail

Another clue came from analysing Subramanian’s desktop provided by the NSE. Subramanian’s account of Skype, the internet calling service provider, was linked to rigyajursama@outlook.com and Subramanian’s mobile number.

“The Skype account with user profile name ‘sironmani.10’ was linked to email id rigyajursama@outlook.com and the mobile number of Subramanian," the EY report said. Ramkrishna, at times, referred to the yogi as “Sironmani".

Subramanian’s mobile number was used by the consultants to confirm access to his Skype account.

Mint learnt that the mobile number mentioned above was registered in the name of Jamal Sharif, a NSE employee, but was assigned by the Exchange to Subramanian.

Mint could not reach out to Sharif.

Clues from timestamp

Further evidence pointing a finger at Subramanian came from the Microsoft Word and Excel files used as attachments by the spiritual yogi when sending emails to Ramkrishna. The Microsoft Word and Excel documents were created and modified on Subramanian’s desktop provided to him by the NSE. They were sent from the email id rigyajursama@outlook.com to Ramkrishna.

During its investigation, EY found that 17 emails sent from the email id rigyajursama@outlook.com to both Ramkrishna and Sunita Anand had at least one Word file or Excel file attachment. Nine had a Word or Excel attachments, while eight emails had images as attached files. Sifting through the nine Microsoft Word and Excel documents, the consultants found that these documents bore Subramanian Anand as the author of these documents.

Finally, the timestamp (a sequence of information that identifies when an event occurred) of these nine Word and Excel file attachments revealed that there was a difference of not more than two minutes—between the time the files were worked on at the desktop and the time they were emailed to Ramkrishna and Sunita Anand.

“This timestamp left no doubt in anybody’s mind that he (Subramanian) was actually impersonating as the unnamed executive," said the second executive.

Of the eight images that were sent as attachments, two of the emails were geotagged and found by EY executives to be close to Subramanian’s residence in Chennai. It was concluded that both the geotagged emails from Subramanian and from the Himalayan yogi were sent within 100 metres of Subramanian’s residence in Teynampet, Chennai, the first executive cited above said.

The consultants also geotagged a few other images sent as attachments as part of official emails sent by Subramanian (when he was in Chennai) to Ramkrishna.

The holiday

EY consultants stumbled upon a particular banking transaction that bolstered their suspicion about Subramanian’s impersonation as the yogi.

On 1 December 2015, rigyajursama@outlook.com emailed Subramanian, stating: “Kanchan, your holiday is approved and booked by ME at Umaid Bhavan (Jodhpur, Rajasthan)". According to EY, the mystic addressed Subramanian as ‘Kanchan’. This email was also copied to Subramanian’s personal email id (aanand_s@hotmail.com).

Subramanian’s bank accounts showed that he had made a transaction, dated 27 November 2015, of 2,37,984 towards Umaid Bhavan Palace.

Put simply, it appears that Subramanian was using another fake email id to write to himself, thereby giving an impression that there was indeed a third person.

Finally, the consultants found the language used by Subramanian in some of his official emails similar to those used in the emails sent from rigyajursama@outlook.com.

During the course of the investigation, an old email revealed that there were some people outside of the NSE who addressed Subramanian as “God".

One of Subramanian’s official emails to Ramkrishna reads: “SOM, I came, I discussed, and I left like a Lord. Very soon, Kanchan will to my line to fit your second line shoes. Ashirvadhams". At times, emails referred to Ramkrishna as ‘Som’.

The above email is similar to the language used in mails received from rigyajursama@outlook.com.

Yet another bizarre email was from an unknown person, using the email address t.subreshrer@gmail.com. On 24 November 2009, the person wrote to Subramanian’s personal email id: “Dearest God: when I come to Chennai, I will definitely bring the baby and come to visit you along with my husband to seek your blessings in person".

The next day, on 25 November, Subramanian forwarded this email to his wife Sunita.

In addition to the above, EY consultants also analysed the cell phone records of Ramkrishna for the period between July 2015 and December 2016. Subramanian’s two cell phones, including the official number, was analysed for the period July 2016-September 2016. During this period, both spoke to each other the highest number of times.

Sebi’s stance

Mint independently cannot ascertain if the above points are enough to confirm Subramanian’s impersonation of the Himalayan yogi. However, Sebi did not find merit in addressing any of the issues EY raised while pronouncing its order earlier this month.

“The EY report, at best, reveals that the unknown person was also well-known and in close proximity to Noticee no. 6 (Subramanian) but does not give a conclusive finding that Noticee no. 6 was in fact the unknown person who used the email id rigyajursama@outlook.com," Ananta Barua, whole-time director at Sebi, wrote in the order dated 11 February.

Sebi appears to be peeved since EY consultants did not scan the laptops of either Subramanian or Ramkrishna (they were not available for forensic imaging since they were disposed as e-waste). The regulator’s order, nevertheless, is silent on the details Subramanian’s official desktop fetched.

Two Sebi officials who spoke to Mint said that one of the reasons why the market regulator did not find the EY report conclusive was the lack of demonstration that Subramanian’s id and the id belonging to rigyajursama had the same internet protocol (IP).

“If Sebi had believed the NSE version, we would have, in turn, been questioned— why did we accept non-conclusive evidence? There is no demonstration in the report that Subramanian was using this email id (rigyajursama’s). We have cross examined everyone with the EY report. Sebi has arrived at the order only after that," said one of the officials.

Some NSE executives are, expectedly, not happy with the Sebi order.

“Let’s for a moment say that the EY completely botched up the investigation and it has no conclusive evidence. Let us even agree that the NSE board wanted to put a quick closure to the case, and so agreed with the EY’s findings. But it is surprising that the Sebi order does not have any mention of any of these points. What is Sebi’s rationale to dismiss the findings that Subramanian and the mysterious person are not the same person?" asked an executive at the NSE.

Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Subramanian from his residence in Chennai. Mint, on 26 February, reported that the CBI may have determined that the faceless yogi was none other than Subramanian.

The CBI has also been questioning Ramkrishna and Ravi Narain, the former vice-chairman of NSE’s board.

An email sent to EY seeking comment went unanswered. Text message sent to Ramkrishna, too, remained unanswered. Subramanian could not be reached as he is incarcerated and is being questioned by the federal investigative agencies. Still, Mint sent a text message on his registered mobile number. Clarifications sought from the NSE and Sebi remained unanswered, too.

Jayshree P. Upadhyay in Mumbai contributed to this story.

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