By TOM HAYS, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) _ A former Goldman Sachs board member brazenly committed securities fraud by feeding confidential information about the investment bank to a high-flying hedge fund manager, who used it to make a killing on the stock market, a federal prosecutor said Monday at a closely watched insider trading trial.
Rajat Gupta “threw away his duties, threw away his responsibilities and broke the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Reed Brodsky told jurors in federal court in Manhattan.
In his opening statement, Broadsky recounted how the hedge fund manager, Raj Rajaratnam, earned close to $1 million after Gupta allegedly told him that Goldman had received an offer from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to invest $5 billion in the banking giant in 2008.
“That was trading on secrets coming from someone who actually knew what was happening in the confines of the board room,” Broadsky said. “That’s called insider trading and that’s a serious crime.”
The jury, which includes a grade school teacher, a psychiatric nurse and a nonprofit executive, was selected Monday morning.
Before the jurors were picked, prosecutors said they planned to call Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor who serves on Goldman’s board, as a government witness.
The 63-year-old Gupta is also a former director of 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, Tide and Pringles.
The Westport, Conn., resident has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and five counts of securities fraud stemming from his communications with convicted former hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam. His lawyer was to give his opening statement later Monday.
A key to the case is a July 29, 2008, phone call between Gupta and Rajaratnam that began with the old friends exchanging mild pleasantries, but then quickly turned serious and _ by the government’s account _ criminal.
Rajaratnam asked about a rumor that Goldman Sachs “might look to buy a commercial bank.” On the other end of the phone, Gupta confided there was a “big discussion” on the subject at a recent meeting.
Prosecutors will try to convince a jury that the intercepted call show and other evidence shows Gupta was providing inside tips that gave Rajaratnam an illegal edge in massive stock maneuvers. The tips from Gupta were like “getting tomorrow’s business news today,” Brodsky said Monday.
As a Goldman board member, Gupta had intimate knowledge of the confidentiality standards, the prosecutor added.
“He broke the very same rules he put in place,” he said.
Defense lawyers say they’ll argue Gupta was a straight arrow who only shared public information with the billionaire hedge fund boss. They also say he was devoted to raising money for charity as to Goldman’s bottom line.
The 24-minute phone call that’s central to the Gupta case helped convict Rajaratnam last year in the same courthouse.
The Galleon founder is serving an 11-year prison sentence, the longest ever given in an insider trading case.
Rajaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, has been the biggest catch so far in a wide-ranging insider-trading investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that’s resulted in more than two dozen prosecutions of white collar defendants. But based on Gupta’s standing in the world of finance, his trial could draw more attention, and a potential conviction could resonate farther.
Aside from his role at Goldman Sachs, the Indian-born Gupta is the former chief of McKinsey & Co., a highly regarded global consulting firm that zealously guards its reputation for discretion and integrity.
Prosecutors in effect previewed their case against Gupta at the Rajaratnam trial.
Jurors in that case heard testimony that at an Oct. 23, 2008, Goldman board meeting, members were told that the investment bank was facing a quarterly loss for the first time since it had gone public in 1999.
Prosecutors produced phone records that they said show Gupta called Rajaratnam 23 seconds after the meeting ended, causing Rajaratnam to sell his entire position in Goldman the next morning, saving millions of dollars.
Also played at trial was the tape of Rajaratnam grilling Gupta about whether the Goldman Sachs board had discussed acquiring Wachovia or an insurance company.
“Have you heard anything along that line?” Rajaratnam asked Gupta.
“Yeah,” Gupta responded. “This was a big discussion at the board meeting.”
Prosecutors sought to maximize the impact of the Gupta tape by calling Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein to testify that the phone call violated the investment bank’s confidentiality policies. Prosecutors say Blankfein will return to the stand at Gupta’s trial.
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)