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Wall St scam pits desi vs desi

Preet Bharara made headlines and photos in the New York press, the national media, and in the Indian community in America last
Tuesday when he was sworn in as the US Attorney for Manhattan.

There are only 93 US Attorneys in the country, and each one is a prized presidential appointment, none more than the one for Manhattan, whose chief government prosecutor (Bharara's job) will try some of most high-profile cases in the US. His predecessors in the Manhattan office include Rudy Giuliani, who went on to become a national hero, and Louis Freeh, who became the FBI Director.

Few expected Bharara, 40, would be making even bigger headlines before the week ended.

Although President Obama had announced his appointment months earlier and he had been vetted in a Senate hearing since, the speed with which the India-born Bharara moved to bust an alleged insider trading racket within days of his swearing in has upheld the widespread previews that he's a man on a mission. The fact that the bust involved at least three 'desis,' including Sri Lankan billionaire Raj Rajaratnam and Indian-Americans Anil Kumar and Rajeev Goel in what Bharara says is a $20 million scam, has only added to his already considerable allure.

A naturalized American, Preetinder S Bharara was born in Ferozepur, Punjab, and moved with his parents to the US in 1970 when he was an infant. He grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Harvard in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993, before embarking on a legal and political path where he was marked as a rising star very early in his career.

After a legal track lasting eight years in two Manhattan law firms, Bharara joined New York Senator Charles Schumer as his chief counsel, a job which brought him into prominence in Washington DC, especially after his fearless exposure of political vendetta in the Bush administration's justice department. The case won him widespread praise and admiration for his even-handed, non-partisan approach.

When Schumer then recommended him to Obama for appointment as a US attorney, it was a shoo-in especially since he had already worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office early on in his career.

But on Friday, Bharara rocked Manhattan by going after Raj Rajaratnam, the Sri Lankan billionaire boss of the hedge fund, Galleon Group and serving notice to corporate America, whose reputation is at an all-time low after a string of white collar crimes. "This case should serve as a wake-up call for Wall Street," Bharara said at a news conference, sounding an ominous note to the bastion of world finance.

The charge against Rajaratnam is insider trading. As head of the Galleon Group, Rajaratnam aggressively pursued insider information that many fund managers pride themselves on getting to stay ahead of the curve and make money for clients.

But there are grey areas here, and according to the prosecution, Rajaratnam crossed some red lines in getting non-public information from insiders who were allegedly in in breach of their fiduciary duty.

One of the defendants in the case is Rajiv Goel, an Intel executive, who, as the company's Director of Strategic Investments allegedly gave insider information to Rajaratnam about the chip-maker's investment in a company called Clearwire. This enabled Rajaratnam to make more than $ 500,000 in profit. Anil Kumar, a McKinsey executive who was working on reorganization in the chipmaker AMD, likewise figures in another episode.

Rajaratnam, whose net worth of $ 1.3 billion ranks him as the 559th richest person in the U.S, has denied the charges and confidently asserted that he is innocent. It now remains to be seen if Bharara has bitten of more than he can chew in the Big Apple where he first cut his legal teeth.

Source: TOI


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