The Science of Embezzlement: “Arthasastra”


Arthasastra, written by Kautilya in the third century BC identified forty different ways to embezzle the Treasury. This is one of the earliest records documenting the science of embezzlement. The logic for listing them out is probably to educate supervisors on what to lookout for, using the principle “set a thief to catch a thief”.


At the top of the list were techniques related to revenue, in the middle were techniques related to the cost, and the bottom of the list described techniques related to the use of fraudulent measurement standards.


The list of forty embezzlement techniques:


1. What is collected earlier is accounted later

2. What is collected later is accounted earlier

3. What ought to be collected is not collected

4. What is hard to collect is shown as collected

5. What is collected is shown as not collected

6. What is not collected is shown as collected

7. What is collected in part is shown as collected in full

8. What is collected in full is shown as collected in part

9. What is collected is of one sort, when what is entered is of another sort, e.g. rice in place of pulses

10. What is realized from one source, is shown as realized from another source

11. What is payable is not paid

12. What is not payable is paid

13. What is payable is not paid in time e.g. delaying payments with a view to receive a bribe

14. What is payable is paid earlier e.g. payment before due date for a consideration

15. Small gifts are accounted as large gifts, when giving gifts

16. Large gifts are accounted as small gifts, when receiving gifts

17. What is gifted is of one sort, when what is entered is of another sort

18. Beneficiary entered in register is different from the one who received the gift

19. Materials received in treasury is removed or materials not received is accounted as received

20. Raw materials paid for are not accounted in the stores, while those that are not paid for are entered as received in stores

21. An aggregate amount received is entered as parts, e.g. tax received from a village is shown as tax received from individuals

22. Parts received are entered as an aggregate, e.g. tax received from individuals is shown as tax received from a village

23. Commodities of greater value exchanged for those of smaller value

24. Commodities of smaller value exchanged for those of greater value

25. Value of goods inflated, by increasing the price

26. Value of goods deflated, by decreasing the price

27. Number of days increased, e.g. with a view of misappropriating wages

28. Number of days decreased, e.g. with a view to collecting lower taxes

29. Discrepancy in the number of months in a year, e.g. not accounting for transactions in all the months

30. Discrepancy in the number of days in a month, e.g. not accounting for transactions in all the days

31. Inconsistency in the transaction carried on under personal supervision

32. Misrepresentation of the source of income

33. Inconsistency in accounting for charities

34. Incongruity in representing work done, e.g. superintendent of boats misappropriating ferry dues, under the false plea that only Brahmins crossed the river

35. Inconsistently in dealing with fixed [regular] items

36. Misrepresentation of the standard of fineness of gold and silver

37. Misrepresentation of the price of commodities

38. Using false weights and measures

39. Deception in counting articles

40. Use of false cubic measures


The list of forty can be bifurcated into 28 techniques related to documentation and 12 techniques related to physical goods and standards of measure. The techniques related to documentation can be further grouped under four heads: not recording a transaction, mismatch between the time of recording and the physical transaction, recording a fictitious transaction, and recording a transaction incorrectly. Unauthorized transactions and use of defective standards from the two branches of techniques related to physical goods.


Even after the advancement of human history over the last two thousand years, it is tough to find a new technique   of   embezzlement to add to this comprehensive list.


The article is extracted from the book titled “Corporate Disclosures: The Origin of Financial and Business Reporting 1553—2007 AD” by Shankar Jaganathan and published by Taylor & Francis Books India Pvt. Ltd. / Routledge India in 2008.)