Former McKinsey CEO Gupta pleads not guilty to insider-trading charges

October 26, 2011

From Kolkata, India, Rajat K. Gupta rose to the heights of international business, leading the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and serving on the boards of companies such as Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble and the parent of American Airlines.

But on Wednesday, Gupta turned himself in at the New York office of the FBI, where he was fingerprinted, photographed and subjected to a DNA swab before going to court to face criminal charges that he participated in an insider trading scheme.

Gupta, 62, became the most prominent figure charged in a federal crackdown on insider trading that recently led to an 11-year prison sentence for his alleged co-conspirator, hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam.

The indictment alleges that Gupta divulged boardroom secrets to Rajaratnam, who then traded on them.

Gupta pleaded not guilty and was released. He was given until Nov. 11 to surrender his passport and post a $10 million bond secured by his Connecticut home.

Gupta’s attorney, Gary P. Naftalis, issued a statement saying that the charges “are totally baseless.”

“The facts in this case demonstrate that Mr. Gupta is innocent of any of these charges and that he has always acted with honesty and integrity,” Naftalis said.

Gupta had been under a cloud for months. The government declared him an unindicted co-conspirator during its prosecution of Rajaratnam, and shortly before Rajaratnam’s trial began, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged him administratively, laying out the allegations against him.

After losing a procedural battle, the SEC withdrew the administrative case in August, but on Wednesday it filed a civil suit against Gupta that paralleled the criminal charges.

According to the government, the conspiracy played out in 2008 and 2009. Sometimes, Gupta passed secrets to Rajaratnam, founder of Galleon Management, so quickly that his tips “could be termed instant messaging,” Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York office, said in a statement.

For example, on Sept. 23, 2008, as Wall Street teetered on the brink of collapse, Gupta participated by phone in a meeting in which the Goldman Sachs board approved a $5 billion infusion from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. At about 3:54 p.m., approximately 16 seconds after Gupta disconnected his phone from the Goldman call, his assistant phoned Rajaratnam and patched in Gupta, the indictment said. Gupta then told Rajaratnam about the Berkshire investment, the government said.

With two minutes to spare before the market closed, Rajaratnam then caused some of Galleon’s funds to buy Goldman shares, the government said. Goldman announced the deal with Berkshire after the market closed, and the next day Galleon sold the Goldman shares at an illegal profit of about $840,000, the government charged.

Similarly, in October 2008, Gupta and other Goldman directors were told that the Wall Street firm had lost almost $2 per share that quarter in what would be the first quarterly loss in Goldman’s history, the government said. Approximately 23 seconds after disconnecting from that call, Gupta called Rajaratnam, the indictment said. By selling Goldman shares, Galleon funds avoided millions of dollars of losses, the government said.

Entrusted with confidential information, Gupta “became the illegal eyes and ears in the boardroom for his friend and business associate,” Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said in a statement.

Naftalis, the defense lawyer, said that there were legitimate reasons for Gupta’s communications with Rajaratnam and that the accusations “are based entirely on circumstantial evidence.”

Rajaratnam was convicted largely on the basis of government wiretaps, and verbatim excerpts of secretly recorded calls have figured prominently in other recent insider trading cases. The Gupta indictment does not explicitly cite recordings of Gupta passing inside information to Rajaratnam.

But in a July 2008 call captured by the government, Gupta talked to Rajaratnam about a Goldman board discussion and a rumor that Goldman might try to buy a commercial bank, according to a transcript.

“This was a big discussion at the board meeting,” Gupta allegedly said, adding that it was a “divided discussion in the board.”

Gupta’s fall from the top of the business world followed a dramatic rise.

In a 1994 interview with Business Today, the native of India said his father was a journalist and freedom fighter who had been jailed many times, and his mother taught at a Montessori school. He went from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to Harvard Business School, where his classmates were surprised to learn he earned excellent grades.

“I never said much, you know,” he told the interviewer.

At age 45, he was running McKinsey, a post he held from 1994 to 2003.

He served on a board of advisers to the dean of Harvard Business School and on a similar panel at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He chaired an advisory panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and he became a special adviser to the secretary general of the United Nations.

Gupta’s trial is scheduled to begin in April.

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