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Rajat Gupta: from rags to riches to rags again

Rajat Gupta: from rags to riches to rags again
AFP
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First Published: Fri, Oct 28 2011. 01 03 AM IST

Updated: Fri, Oct 28 2011. 01 03 AM IST
New York: Rajat Gupta, who stands accused of insider trading, was a pillar of New York society, courted by charities, corporations and wealthy individuals seeking ways and means to make even more money.
But just as his friends and influence grew exponentially during a dizzying climb to the top of the cut-throat world of American finance, he has lost many of his illustrious business contacts and associations on the way down.
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Charges against Rajat Gupta (FBI press release)
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Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta pleaded not guilty to insider trading after giving himself up to the FBI.
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The Indian-born executive’s humble origins made his rise to a prized seat in the boardroom of Goldman Sachs in late 2006 seem particularly remarkable.
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A US federal judge in New York ordered that Gupta, who has been charged with five counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, be freed on $10 million bail, but seized his passport.
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While many of his contemporaries relied on family connections, Gupta, now 62, had lost both his parents before he exited his teenage years, and had to plot his own path, relying only on himself and friends to make it in Manhattan.
One such friend of recent years was Raj Rajaratnam, a hedge fund boss about to start an 11-year jail sentence, whom Gupta is accused of providing a pipeline of insider tips that culminated in millions of dollars of illicit trading profits.
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Gupta -- also a former director at Procter & Gamble -- faces over 100 years in prison and a $25 million fine if found guilty, though his lawyer dismissed the allegations against him as ‘totally baseless’.
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The pair’s South Asian roots — Rajaratnam is Sri-Lankan born — are a striking reminder of the increasingly prominent role of South Asians in US business.
Born in Kolkata, (West Bengal) to a teacher mother and journalist father, Gupta studied mechanical engineering in New Delhi. The first time he stepped on an airplane was when he flew to the United States to attend the illustrious Harvard Business School where he obtained an MBA.
He then joined McKinsey & Company, widely-considered the world’s most influential consulting firm, an accolade for which Gupta can claim much credit.
In one of global business’s most competitive disciplines Gupta went all the way to the top, becoming managing director of McKinsey in 1994 and the first person born outside America to hold the top job.
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Prosecutors said Gupta tipped Rajaratnam about Warren Buffett’s surprise $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs during the financial crisis, allowing Rajaratnam to profit from trade before the market knew about the transaction.
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It was a journey that delivered him a lavish lifestyle and properties which are said to include a ranch in Colorado, a five-acre estate in Westport, Connecticut, and a $4 million waterfront home in Florida.
Having overseen a massive expansion of McKinsey’s reach, including new offices in near two dozen countries and a doubling of its consultant headcount, he moved sideways in 2003, taking the position of senior partner before retiring “senior partner emeritus” four years later.
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The insider trading by Rajaratnam and others produced more than $18 million in illicit profits and loss avoidance, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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By that time, he had already started what could be considered a second career, cultivating a stream of other interests, even at the United Nations, where former secretary-general Kofi Annan tapped him in 2005 as his special advisor for management reform. A year later he joined the Goldman Sachs board.
He raised millions of dollars for charity, hung out with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and attended President Barack Obama’s first state dinner at the White House.
He also served on numerous charitable trusts, including a senior advisor role at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, started by the Microsoft billionaire, a job at which Gupta stood down in March in light of the insider trading allegations.
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The house of Rajat Gupta stands in Westport.
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In a sign of the seriousness of the charges, McKinsey has severed all ties with its former chief, but it is his actions at Goldman that are closest under the judicial microscope — though he has been freed on bail of $10 million.
Gupta is accused of telephoning his friend Rajaratnam and disclosing market sensitive information within minutes, and in one case just 39 seconds, after he had learned of it in the Goldman boardroom.
By doing so “he stood to benefit from his relationship with Rajaratnam,” in whose Galleon funds he had invested, the charges against him state.
Gupta could face a sentence of more than 100 years in prison and a $25 million fine if found guilty, though his lawyer describes the allegations as “totally baseless.”
Rajaratnam for his part refused to take a plea bargain and turn state’s witness against fellow immigrant Gupta, citing friendship and the latter’s four children as compelling reasons to stay silent.
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First Published: Fri, Oct 28 2011. 01 03 AM IST