Indian-American lawyer, author and former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017 discussed challenges in the pursuit of justice in a Covid-19 world, why he thought Rajat Gupta did what he did and why Trump is bad for law over a closed group webinar hosted by by corporate law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.
Bharara who also wrote a true crime book last year called Doing Justice and became one of the first federal employees to be fired by President Donald Trump, has been teaching at the New York University's Law School said that "When one is a public prosecutor in any country it's not a popularity contest and no one we ever investigated or prosecuted ever sent flowers or chocolates our way and one has to be devoted to the concept of impartial justice, sometimes communities will think you're targeting them even if you are not and sometimes powerful figures including politicians and the President of the United States, may be unhappy with you." Bharara for his part says Trump has been devastating for the rule of law. "Case after case he has reached to get favourable treatment for people close to him and persecute those adversarial to him and that is not how it should work in a place that's not a banana republic. "
There were also other times when he was vilified. "I was formerly banned from going to Russia by Vladimir Putin for a case against a notorious arms dealer. I would be probably be wise not to go to Turkey where President Erdogan personally asked for my firing from President Obama for a case against a gold trader."
Cyril Shroff, CAM's managing partner asked him on the principles that enabled the best standards of Justice to which Bharara said that there was not a lot of emphasis on training people in judgment when there's no case on point. "If you want justice, one needs to train people to be sensitive to their own biases and make sure they are doing the right thing in the vast oceans of discretion they have," he said. "It's people who do justice, you can have perfect constitution, perfect statutes, perfect compliance but if people who run things don't themselves have integrity then you don't get justice."
Companies with wonderful compliance and training are criminals because there is no culture of honesty and candour. "We bought a case against a huge set of hedge funds and I'll never forget when their in house general counsel met with me in the 8th floor library of the Southern district office and pleaded with us to be lenient and I asked can you give me one example of a time when the head of the company in an email or a speech or a memo or an event ever said anything about integrity and doing the things the right way. One time. They couldn't come up with one example," Bharara said.
Bharara who took down former McKinsey boss Rajat Gupta on charges of insider trading said "Insider trading is not the most serious crime in the world but got outsized attention when his office brought them," he said. "People would say why are you so obsessed with it and I would say there's a huge financial press, 24-hour news channels there isn't a 24 hour narcotics or gangs channel." It's an odd crime with no identifiable victim but ask the CEO of a public traded company and they will agree they are victims.
Bharara says personally it was odd that he got criticism because the two high profile figures he prosecuted were South Asians and by happenstance so was he. Hedge fund trader Raj Rajaratnam was indicted before he was scheduled to travel in October 2009. Bharara took his office in August 2009 and all the wire taps ending up convicting Rajaratnam were done and authorized by his Latino predecessor.
So what made them do it? Extraordinarily those two were already rich legitimately. "Rajaratnam was a billionaire, and we were concerned the defense was that his trades were all based on legitimate homework and research and that they would say why on earth would we commit these crimes because we already have a billion dollars. The answer was "They did their homework but they cheated too," he said, adding that it's no different from great athletes who take steroids to get a little bit more extra.
"In the case of Rajat Gupta, who got off light by the way and ruined his reputation, had a $100 million and my armchair psychology of him is that he saw Rajaratnam who was not as smart not as famous not as erudite nor as lauded and thought how come I only have a $100 million and Rajaranatam who is not me, how does he have a billion dollars?" He said."Even people with extraordinary wealth and accomplishments can become envious of others and I don't understand it but that's the best explanation I can give."
Is the pandemic hurting the justice system? Some investigations like money laundering and cyber can be done without too much interference on laptops but old-fashioned investigations like knocking on doors and doing face to face interviews and contact becomes very difficult. "The one upside of the justice system of the Supreme court which is notoriously shy and earlier had no video or audio but now can be heard in real time," he said.
In response to a query that Shroff asked on tips for young professionals and lawyers Bharara said "Ambition is good. I didn't get to where I did without having high ambition but you have to be patient and you have to pay your dues but people want to be generals before they have fought in the war and my advice to young people is to get as much experience in your craft before you go do other things. There's no substitute for work and putting in hours and the time. If you want to graduate to becoming a great lawyer it's about judgment not book learning. If you're young or middle aged, associate with people with extraordinary judgment."