An insightful, racy page-turner

Written by Anil Sasi | Updated: Mar 11 2013, 01:39am hrs
Fallen Angel is an account of an extremely successful man and the extraordinary events surrounding him

Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta

Sandipan Deb

Rupa Publications

Rs.295

Pg 248

The foremost challenge in chronicling a widely-publicised event involving a high-profile personality is to ensure that there is enough material, over and above the details already available in the public domain, that can make the effort worth a read.

Sandipan Debs Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta is a racy account with its cast of real-life characters centred around Gupta, former head of the worlds most respected management consultancy firm, McKinsey & Co. The book recounts how the former Goldman Sachs director was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison by a New York court in October last year for insider trading.

As the reference in the titlewhich alludes to John Miltons Paradise Lost, where Lucifer was Gods most devoted angel till he fell and turned into SatanGupta was larger-than-life before his eventual downfall. Till his conviction and sentencing on October 24, 2012, for securities fraud and insider trading, Gupta, who symbolised both Indian middle-class aspirations and the American dream, was widely seen as an iconic figure, both for his business acumen and philanthropy.

The book goes back repeatedly to Guptas background as an orphan who made it to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), supported his siblings, joined the Ivy League and then managed to touch dizzying heights in the US corporate sector. It also offers insights into Preet Bharara, the Indian-born US prosecutor who made it a personal mission to set Gupta behind bars; Raj Rajaratnam, the stock trade-turned-stockster and Robert Moffatt, who could have been the CEO of IBM but ended up in prison instead.

Gupta, however, takes centrestage, and the account lists out views of colleagues and peers, and pretty much all the possible reasons why the man should not have got into one of the most serious white-collar crimes in the US, knowing fully well the risks his actions could carry. And this at the pinnacle of his career when money was not an issue and the future beckoned.

What led to his fall from grace Based on extensive research, including transcripts of FBI-wiretap conversations, the book is an insightful account of an extremely successful man and the extraordinary events surrounding him. Although the legal pronouncement is out, the question remains unanswered on what led Gupta to do what he did.

Whats clear though is that the worst thing he did was pass confidential information, disclosed only to the board of Goldman Sachs, to hedge-fund manager Rajaratnam. At a time when the financial markets were in turmoil, Goldman, on July 29, 2008, received a critical infusion of $5 billion from Warren Buffetts Berkshire Hathaway. Within minutes, Gupta was found to have tipped off Rajaratnam, enabling him to trade ahead of the public disclosure. The only phone conversation between Rajaratnam and Gupta that the US government was able to tap took place in the early evening of July 29 that lasted 18 minutes. The conversation is, to say the least, revealing. Gupta sounds unsure and confused at times, and is looking to his friend for career advice, perhaps an indication of his lobbying for a bigger role in the Galleon Groupand perhaps more money.

It is also obvious from the conversation detailed in the transcripts that Gupta was well aware that his long-time protege and McKinsey employee, Anil Kumar, was working on the sly for Rajaratnam and getting paid for it. In the conversation, it is nearly implied that Gupta, who at the time of this fateful phone conversation had been retired from McKinsey for about a year, very likely knew about the arrangement between Rajaratnam and Kumar while he was still working at the firm. Guptas downward spiral starts from this point on, with Kumars testimony playing a crucial role. Fallen Angel captures this in graphic detail.

The build-up and the eventual indictment point to the vulnerabilities in the man, and how the cross connections finally begin to unravel. Fallen Angel is a page-turner that explores the complicated layers of this human drama.