September 21, 2020

DealBook: For Defense in Galleon Trial, No Time to Rest

Raj Rajaratnam, right, and his lawyer, John Dowd, leave federal court on Monday.Brendan Mcdermid/ReutersRaj Rajaratnam, right, and his lawyer, John Dowd, leaving court on Monday.

I wouldn’t want to be Raj Rajaratnam’s lawyer right now.

As the insider trading case of Mr. Rajaratnam enters its sixth week, the trial has captivated Wall Street as a suspenseful, complex financial version of “Law Order” that could have a cliffhanger ending.

But John Dowd, his lawyer, could have his work cut out for him persuading the jury. Sitting in the gallery on the 17th floor of the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Monday — seats away from Mr. Rajaratnam — it struck me just how much evidence they have to overcome.

“I heard yesterday from somebody who’s on the board of Goldman Sachs that they are going to lose $2 per share,” Mr. Rajaratnam said to an employee on a taped telephone conversation that was played for the jury.

In another recorded call, he is heard telling a friend that he bought a certain stock because he was sure it would go up.

Why was he so certain? “We know because one of our guys is on the board,” he explained.

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And in another tape-recorded call, Danielle Chiesi, a hedge fund executive, told Mr. Rajaratnam very specifically about the coming earnings of Akamai Technologies: “They’re going to guide down. I just got a call from my guy.”

When this case was first brought, Wall Street was aflutter with anxiety that the government was expanding the definition of insider trading. The trial was seen as a moment that would show how the government planned to police modern Wall Street as more and more information poured into the system. It was supposed to redefine the law around “expert networks,” those paid services that investors use to gain an edge, and “channel checks,” which investors use to ferret out information from suppliers and clients.

But the case against Mr. Rajaratnam is not about a new form of insider trading. It is whether what happened was old-fashioned insider trading — passing blatant, black-and-white tips that gave a trading advantage. Over and over, witnesses with inside information testified to breaking the law to provide Mr. Rajaratnam with details of coming announcements and transactions.

Despite the Galleon Group’s $6 billion under management, high-priced real estate and supposed analysts, witnesses have painted a picture of Mr. Rajaratnam’s firm as one that disregarded insider trading laws as standard operating procedure. So far, the defense has hardly tried to refute the evidence; instead, it has relied on an effort to confuse the jury about what constitutes inside information.

I attended court the day that Mr. Rajaratnam’s lawyer questioned Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’s chief executive, about information from a board meeting that prosecutors say was relayed to Mr. Rajaratnam by Rajat Gupta, a Goldman director at the time.

The lawyer quizzed Mr. Blankfein about whether Goldman’s board ever discussed issues that were in the public domain, as if to suggest that the line between inside information and public information was never a bright line. The lawyer trotted out an example: Goldman’s board discussed Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy after the bankruptcy had been announced. Gotcha!

Mr. Blankfein tried to explain that Goldman’s board often discussed news that had been reported in the press, but that the board’s internal conversations about that news was confidential and could be important, material information if shared with the public.

Why the judge allowed such a line of interrogation was a question asked by spectators in the courtroom.

On Monday, the defense was back with a new line of questioning. It sought to undermine the credibility of the prosecution’s witness, who had pleaded guilty to insider trading at Galleon. When questioned by a lawyer before his crimes were exposed, the defense pointed out, the witness had said that he “was not aware of any insider trading at Galleon.” Almost no one, of course, would have admitted to that before having been charged.

This case differs from the trials of L. Dennis Kozlowski, John Rigas and others that I have covered.

In those trials, the outcome was not clear because much of the evidence was murkier. There were no tapes. Documents presented by the two sides seemed to contradict each other. Both Mr. Kozlowski and Mr. Rigas were convicted and sentenced to jail terms, but before their guilty verdicts came, it was not certain that the government’s “proof” would be enough.

Why Mr. Rajaratnam decided to fight the case, with so many witnesses in taped conversation with him, is a mystery.

I am left thinking he must have decided that he had nothing to lose and that if his lawyers could persuade just one juror, it would be worth going to trial. But I’m still glad I’m not his lawyer.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a1ae590dca6cabbaa356114d5275154d

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