NEW YORK — Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta pleaded not guilty Wednesday to insider trading after giving himself up to the FBI, as the high-flying executive was caught in a growing Wall Street scandal.
Indian-born Gupta is accused of leaking information to Sri Lankan-born old friend Raj Rajaratnam, a disgraced former hedge fund manager who turned a massive profit by buying or selling Goldman shares depending on the news.
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.
The 62-year-old 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.”
“We wish to enter a plea of not guilty to all charges,” star white-collar defense lawyer Gary Naftalis said at a hearing before a separate judge. A trial was set for April 9.
Rajaratnam, who will soon start serving an 11-year jail term for massive fraud, was hit with new charges in an indictment that accused the pair of illegal old boys’ club dealings at the highest level on Wall Street.
The indictment claimed to have telephone records showing that Gupta called Rajaratnam to give him privileged information, sometimes within minutes of learning it himself in the boardrooms of Goldman and P&G.
“Rajat Gupta was entrusted by some of the premier institutions of American business to sit inside their boardrooms, among their executives and directors, and receive their confidential information so that he could give advice and counsel for the benefit of their shareholders,” said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.
“As alleged, he broke that trust and instead became the illegal eyes and ears in the boardroom for his friend and business associate, Raj Rajaratnam, who reaped enormous profits from Mr Gupta’s breach of duty.
“Today, we allege that the corruption we have seen in the trading cubicles, investment firms, law firms, expert consulting firms, medical labs and corporate suites also insinuated itself into the boardrooms of elite companies.”
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.
He also allegedly told Rajaratnam in advance when Goldman was about to post its first ever quarterly earnings loss, another major event on the market.
Rajaratnam is said to have used the inside information to trade on behalf of some of Galleon’s hedge funds, or shared the information with others at his firm who then traded on it ahead of public announcements by the companies.
Gupta’s surrender marked the most dramatic development so far in an ongoing crackdown on allegedly rampant illegal trading on Wall Street. Since 2009, more than 50 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty.
“The conduct alleged is not an inadvertent slip of the tongue by Mr Gupta,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice Fedarcyk.
“His eagerness to pass along inside information to Rajaratnam is nowhere more starkly evident than in the two instances where a total of 39 seconds elapsed between his learning of crucial Goldman Sachs information and lavishing it on his good friend.
“That information (captured by the FBI) was conveyed by phone so quickly, it could be termed instant messaging.”
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.
Gupta was allegedly a direct or indirect investor in some of the Galleon hedge funds.
Naftalis insisted Gupta was innocent and would fight the charges.
“The facts demonstrate that Mr Gupta is an innocent man and that he has always acted with honesty and integrity,” the attorney said.
“He did not trade in any securities, did not tip Mr Rajaratnam so he could trade, and did not share in any profits as part of any quid pro quo.”
Gupta joined the Goldman board in November 2006 and served as a member of the Wall Street giant’s audit, compensation and corporate governance and nominating committees.
The naturalized US citizen became chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce last July. He is also the former managing director of consulting powerhouse McKinsey & Company.
A Harvard Business School graduate, he has been affiliated with a number of organizations, including the United Nations, where former secretary-general Kofi Annan tapped him in 2005 as his special advisor for management reform.