x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Unnamed defendant is Wall Street itself

Comment: Rupert Wright gives his take on the insider trading scandal.

Federal prosecutors want to send a tough message to Wall Street. AP Photo
Federal prosecutors want to send a tough message to Wall Street. AP Photo

"Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that is wrong."

Charles Ferguson, the director of Inside Job, a documentary on the Wall Street shenanigans in 2008 that picked up an Oscar last month, startled some of the audience out of their love-fest stupor at the Hollywood awards, but he may have been premature.

Yesterday a trial began in New York that may prove to be both a long-drawn affair and a potentially explosive one in the city that never sleeps.

It pits a former hedge fund billionaire against a jury, and will feature evidence from blue-chip names such as Goldman Sachs, McKinsey and Bear Stearns.

But the trial is not just about Raj Rajaratnam and what he did and who he called.

He is accused of receiving and illegally trading on information from executives at a list of prestigious companies including Intel, IBM and McKinsey. He has denied the charges.

The court will hear about alleged illegal tip-offs and illicit phone calls, and the rush to make huge trades, which could have made millions of dollars of profit. It will also hear about the relationship between hedge funds, consultants, investment banks and the companies themselves.

The Galleon fund, founded by Mr Rajaratnam, was renowned for investing in high-tech companies, and many of its biggest investors were technology sector executives.

What is on trial is not so much one man but an entire financial system. If Mr Rajaratnam is found guilty, so too will be many of the practices common on Wall Street.

Little wonder, then, that potential jurors have been asked by the judge: "Does the fact that the case involves the financial industry, Wall Street executives, hedge funds, mutual funds and the like, make it difficult for anyone to render a fair verdict?"

For a sufficient degree of impartiality, the judge may be better off looking in the audience of starlets at the Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars.