US Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara (Pic: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/meetattorney.html)
Gloating is like burping after a particularly satisfying meal. In certain cultures, including in many parts of India, unless you belch immediately after enjoying a sumptuous fare the ritual of eating remains incomplete. Very often the eructation is accompanied by a gentle massaging of one’s stomach. It is almost like taming a wild beast that sat on your plate daring you slay it.
It is not altogether inconceivable that the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara feels some of that satisfaction after winning the conviction for insider trading of prominent businessman and investor Rajat Gupta.
Why else would he say this? “Having fallen from respected insider to convicted inside trader, Mr. Gupta has now exchanged the lofty board room for the prospect of a lowly jail cell,” Bharara, said in a statement after the victory. I tried saying the same thing in Bharara’s mother tongue Punjabi but using its more unvarnished version. I laughed out so loud it registered three on the Richter scale and prompted the US Geological Survey to call.
Perhaps it is forgivable that as prosecutors Bharara and his team, who must have worked very hard on the Gupta case despite its largely circumstantial nature, feel they deserve a moment of gloating. Someone drafting the statement, perhaps Bharara himself, felt that they had to get the seemingly clever play of words “from respected insider to convicted inside trader” out. Ditto “the lofty board room for the prospect of a lowly jail cell.”
Gupta’s conviction, after that of his partner in crime, the hedge fund billionaire, Raj Rajaratnam is a big deal for a prosecutor’s career. As The New York Times’s Azam Ahmed and Peter Lattman report today the victory does set Bharara up for something bigger—either a lucrative job in a private law firm or as the US attorney-general if President Barack Obama is reelected and the current incumbent Eric H. Holder Jr. leaves.
For Gupta, it is indeed quite a fall from grace. The thud has been heard around the world. No matter what the quantum of sentencing will be when it is decided in October, even a week in prison (and it will be likely way much more, perhaps up to 25 years) is harrowing for anyone. For the 63-year-old Gupta used to the best that life has to offer on a daily basis it could be a complete nightmare.
Gupta’s conviction is unlikely to end insider trading but it will certainly deter others a great deal more. However, something tells me greed is so much potent. It will find other ways.