ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Aaron Katersky and Jack Cloherty report:
Wall Street power player Rajat Gupta arrived at the White House State dinner in 2009 at the pinnacle of American business: on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble, and widely respected in the financial community.
Authorities say he used his sensitive positions to provide billionaire hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam with tips that allowed him to pocket $23 million playing the stock market.
While small investors saw their portfolios crater in 2008-2009, Rajaratnam, the found of Galleon Management, profited no matter what happened on Wall Street.
The government released wiretaps of telephone conversations between to two men to show how they operated. This conversation took place in July, 2008, just after a Gupta attended a Goldman Sachs board meeting. The Galleon fund manager quizzed him about what acquisitions Goldman Sachs might be interested in.
RAJARATNAM: There’s a rumor that Goldman might look to buy a commercial bank. … Have you heard anything along that line?
GUPTA: Yeah. This was a big discussion at the board meeting … on whether we …
RAJARATNAM: Buy a commercial bank?
GUPTA: Buy a commercial bank.
No stock transactions came from that particular call, but many other calls between the two did result in insider trading, according the indictment. In fact, that wiretapped conversation was part of the evidence last spring when Rajaratnam was convicted in the biggest insider trading case ever brought by the U.S. government.
This discussion was also entered into evidence to establish Rajaratnam was pumping Gupta for critical investment information:
RAJARATNAM: All right, anything else? Anything interesting? … Keep your eyes and ears open if you hear anything.
The government claims something “interesting” did come up — as 2008′s financial meltdown became evident. At a 3:15 p.m. board meeting on Sept. 22, 2008, Gupta learned that Warren Buffet and Berkshire-Hathaway were going to invest $5 billion dollars in Goldman Sachs.
Gupta allegedly called Rajaratnam at 3:53 and tipped him off. The hedge fund manager then bought more than 217,000 shares of Goldman minutes before the market closed at 4 p.m. The next day, Goldman stock soared on the news of the Berkshire-Hathaway investment. Rajaratnam then sold the Goldman stock just before the market closed, turning a $800,000 profit in just 24 hours, thanks to the tip from Gupta.
In another example cited in the indictment, Gupta was on the phone with Rajaratnam a mere 23 seconds after a Goldman Sachs board meeting,. This time, Gupta allegedly told Rajaratnam that Goldman was about to announce big losses. The stock price would surely take a beating when the news surfaced publicly. Rajaratnam quickly dumped his Goldman stock and avoided losses of more than $3.6 million.
The government also charges that Gupta abused his position at Proctor and Gamble by tipping Rajaratnam off to P&G’s financial results for the quarter ending December 2008.
Gupta called Rajaratnam to tell him that P&G would soon release information that its sales would not meet expectations. Galleon funds then sold short approximately 180,000 P&G shares, making, according to the indictment, “an illicit profit of more than $570,000.”
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Rajat Gupta was entrusted by some of the premier institutions of American business to sit in their boardrooms … so that he could give advice and counsel for the benefit of their shareholders. 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.”
Gupta’s attorney responded, “The government’s allegations 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. 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.”
In fact, his attorney said, Gupta lost his entire investment in the Galleon Fund at the time of the events in question, removing any motive he may have had for helping Rajaratnam.