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Gupta's trail to tie loose ends in insider trading scam

Azam Ahmed 

Rajat K Gupta

Rajat K Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs director and McKinsey & Company managing director, surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday morning to face charges of insider trading, the latest development in the government’s multiyear crackdown on illegal activity on Wall Street.

In charging Mr Gupta, the government will attempt to tie up one of the biggest loose ends resulting from the investigation into the Galleon Group, which began nearly five years ago at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Raj Rajaratnam, the Galleon co-founder, was sentenced to 11 years in prison this month for making tens of millions of dollars by trading on confidential tips.

Authorities have broadly pursued insider trading on Wall Street, exacting guilty pleas from a chemist at the Federal Drug Administration, among others, as recently as this month. In the past two years, authorities have charged 55 people with insider trading; of those, 51 have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of swapping illegal tips about company earnings and other major corporate events. While the majority of those charged have been traders and analysts on Wall Street, Mr Gupta, 62, is the first executive to be implicated from the upper echelons of corporate America.

The charges are a stunning reversal of fortunes for Mr. Gupta. A native of India, he graduated from Harvard Business School and had a global profile as an adviser to some of the nation’s most iconic He served as a director at Goldman, Procter & Gamble and the parent company of American Airlines. In addition to his professional pedigree, Mr. Gupta was a noted philanthropist, serving in coveted posts with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr Gupta’s case has been a tricky one for the government. Though his name came up repeatedly at Mr. Rajaratnam’s trial, both in testimony and in secretly recorded phone conversations, the Justice Department never filed charges against him. The SEC filed an administrative action against Mr Gupta, and he countersued. The agency later dropped the civil proceedings, but reserved the right to refile the case.

The strength of the government’s case is unclear, but details that emerged during Mr. Rajaratnam’s trial were explosive. In their original action, the SEC accused Mr Gupta of passing confidential information about Goldman and Procter to Mr Rajaratnam, who then traded on the The agency also claimed that Mr Gupta gave Mr Rajaratnam advance word of Warren E Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman during the darkest days of the financial crisis, in addition to other confidential information.

Gary P Naftalis, a lawyer for Mr Gupta, said in a statement on Tuesday: “The facts demonstrate that Mr Gupta is an innocent man and that he acted with honesty and integrity.”

But some of the most powerful evidence for prosecutors may not be presented at trial. Information about Goldman Sachs that the government says came from Mr Gupta was recorded in phone calls between Mr Rajaratnam and his employees; as such, the recordings could be inadmissible if Mr Gupta’s case goes to trial.

In one call that the jury heard in the courtroom, Mr Rajaratnam told someone: “I heard yesterday from somebody who’s on the board of Goldman Sachs that they are going to lose $2 per share.” In a different call, Mr Rajaratnam said, “I got a call saying something good is going to happen to Goldman.”

Mr Gupta’s path to the heights of the global business elite began in India shortly after the country’s independence from Britain. He attended the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology before enrolling at Harvard Business School. After graduating near the top of his class, he joined McKinsey and quickly rose up the ranks of the white-shoe consultancy, which advises a large swathe of the Fortune 500 on corporate strategy, executive training and other business matters. In 1994, at the age 45, Mr. Gupta was tapped to lead McKinsey. During his tenure, the firm expanded its global reach, aggressively moving into emerging markets like India and China.

While he oversaw an era of growth at the consulting firm, his reign was not without controversy. McKinsey encouraged Enron’s transformation from a sleepy energy pipeline company into a high-risk trading operation that ultimately collapsed amid an accounting scandal. Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s former chief executive, was a McKinsey alumnus.

©2011 The New York
Times Service

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First Published: Thu, October 27 2011. 00:54 IST