NEW YORK -- A federal prosecutor accused former Goldman Sachs boardmember Rajat Gupta on Monday of feeding inside investment tips to a corrupt hedgefund manager, while Gupta's lawyer told a jury his relationshipbetween the Wall Street heavyweights was above board. By sharing confidential information with his close friend, RajatGupta "threw away his duties, threw away his responsibilities andbroke the law," Assistant U.S. Attorney Reed Brodsky told jurors in opening statements at Gupta's highly anticipatedinsider trading trial in federal court in Manhattan. Broadsky recounted how former billionaire Raj Rajaratnam earned close to $1 million after Gupta told him in a phone callthat Goldman had received an offer from Warren Buffett 's Berkshire Hathaway to invest $5 billion in the banking giant in2008. |
"That was trading on secrets coming from someone who actually knewwhat was happening in the confines of the board room," Broadskysaid. "That's called insider trading and that's a serious crime." The 63-year-old Gupta is also a former board member at Procter & Gamble Co. , one of the 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones industrial average and the owner of many well-known brands, including Bounty, Tideand Pringles. A not-guilty plea by Gupta "tells you these charges are false,"defense attorney Gary P. Naftalis told jurors.
"He never defrauded anybody. He never cheatedanybody." The Westport resident is charged with one count of conspiracy tocommit securities fraud and five counts of securities fraudstemming from his communications with Rajaratnam. A key to the case could be a July 29, 2008, phone call betweenGupta and Rajaratnam that began with the old friends exchangingmild pleasantries, but then quickly turned serious and -- by thegovernment's account -- criminal. Rajaratnam asked about a rumorthat Goldman Sachs "might look to buy a commercial bank." On theother end of the phone, Gupta told him there was a "big discussion"on the subject at a recent meeting. Brodsky said the call provided "a clear window into how these twomen spoke to each other and helped each other out." Naftalis countered that the call harms rather than helps thegovernment's case because no unusual trading occurred around thattime, and the men were discussing information already reported byanalysts and journalists.
Prosecutors will try to convince the jury that the intercepted calland other evidence show that Gupta was providing inside tips thatgave Rajaratnam an illegal edge in massive stock maneuvers. Thetips from Gupta were like "getting tomorrow's business news today,"Brodsky said Monday. As a Goldman board member, Gupta had intimate knowledge of theconfidentiality standards, the prosecutor said. "He broke the very same rules he put in place," he said. Naftalis said prosecutors had taken "a series of innocent,unconnected acts and put them together and put a bad spin onotherwise innocent facts." He noted that Gupta was not accused of making any trades orreceiving any secret payoffs or payments in what was "a verystrange insider trading case." The government alleges Gupta benefited because he made investmentswith Rajaratnam that grew at least temporarily while the GalleonGroup hedge fund founder presided over $7 billion in funds.
But thedefense claims Gupta lost $10 million on those investments, andthat there's no evidence of kickbacks or any other quid quo pro. Gupta "did no insider trading," his lawyer said. The case, headded, "is based on guesswork. It's based on suspicion.
... Hespoke to someone on the phone and it turned out that person didsomething wrong." Rajaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, has been the biggest catchso far in a wide-ranging insider-trading investigation by U.S.Attorney Preet Bharara that's resulted in more than two dozen prosecutions ofwhite-collar defendants. But based on Gupta's standing in the worldof finance, his trial could draw more attention, and a potentialconviction could resonate farther. Aside from his role at Goldman Sachs, the Indian-born Gupta is theformer chief of McKinsey & Co., a highly regarded global consultingfirm that zealously guards its reputation for discretion andintegrity.
Prosecutors in effect previewed their case against Gupta at theRajaratnam trial. Rajaratnam was convicted last year and is servingan 11-year prison sentence, the longest insider trading sentence inhistory. Jurors in that case heard testimony that at an Oct. 23, 2008,Goldman board meeting, members were told that the investment bankwas facing a quarterly loss for the first time since it had gonepublic in 1999. Prosecutors produced phone records that they said show Gupta calledRajaratnam 23 seconds after the meeting ended, causing Rajaratnamto sell his entire position in Goldman the next morning, savingmillions of dollars.
Also played at trial was the tape of the hedgefund manager grilling Gupta about whether the Goldman Sachs boardhad discussed acquiring Wachovia or an insurance company. Prosecutors sought to maximize the impact of the Gupta tape bycalling Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein to testify that the phone call violated the investment bank'sconfidentiality policies. Prosecutors say Blankfein will return tothe stand at Gupta's trial. Prosecutors also said Monday that they planned to call Bill George , a Harvard Business School professor who serves on Goldman's board, as a witness.
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