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Book Review: The Billionaire'$ Apprentice


Still awaiting the real story
KS NARAYANAN | New Delhi, August 12, 2013 16:59
Tags : The Billionaire'$ Apprentice | Anita Raghavan |

The story of the rise, rise and rise and then fall of Rajat Gupta will interest and intrigue every Indian who has dreamed of making it to America, which is often touted as land of opportunities. In The Billionaire’s Apprentice -The Rise of Indian American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Fund,  award-winning Malaysian-born American journalist Anita Raghavan has penned down a page- turning cops chasing robbers tale set in Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

The collapse of the Galleon Fund - a hedge fund that managed more than US $7 billion in assets – due to
criminal charges of insider trading was a sensational case. It pitted prosecutor Preetinder S Bharara and Security Exchange Commission’s Sanjay Wadhwa, both sons of Indian immigrants, against the best and brightest of the South Asian business community - Mckinsey’s three-time managing director Rajat K Gupta, an icon to Indians around the globe, and his protégé, Anil Kumar.

What shocked the world is that Mckinsey’s brightest and savviest strategist had played into the hands of Galleon’s founder Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri Lankan-born, Wharton-educated hedge fund moghul.

So far all the books written on the case have provided the details involving the collapse of Galleon Group. But Raghavan livens up her book by dissecting court documents, interpreting testimonies, accessing invaluable wiretaps, holding personal interviews and digging newspapers and journals both in the United States and in India as old as half a century old.

Raghavan, who has reported for The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, recreates the events around the business malpractices of insider trading with a great deal of background of those involved in it, tracing them back to their homelands, India and Sri Lanka, to tell the story.

Gupta, Rajaratnam and others are all accused of insider trading, a serious crime in the corporate world across the globe. Insider trading takes no more than a phone call, or short messaging service. However it is a very difficult crime to prove. However, the law enforcement agencies and SEC for the first time tapped on Rajaratnam’s phones, for as long as nine months, yielded an arsenal of incriminating data. Had it not been for the wiretaps, the case against both Gupta and Rajaratnam would not have moved much.

Readers would be disappointed as there is not much new information or revelation about Rajat Gupta.
Rajaratnam is the billionaire in the book. But how can Gupta, an aged and experienced player, be his apprentice? At best he could be his accomplice. If there is a billionaire’s apprentice at all, it must be Anil Kumar, the McKinsey consultant-turned-federal informer who passed on tips to Rajaratnam over several years. Kumar was paid over a million dollars, in the name of his housekeeper Manju Das, deposited in a Swiss account!

All through the book, Indian Americans populate every aspect of the story. Much like the Irish Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, Indian Americans in the first half of the twenty-first century have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the US and they were considered the new model minority. At the end of her book, Anita quotes David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister: “For a country to be “counted among the nations of the world, it has to have its own burglars and prostitutes.” She goes on to say it is an apt analogy of the South Asian community in the US today. One wonders whether the writer was justified in making such a sweeping statement.

As much as the story of Guptas, Rajaratnams and Kumars, the book is also the story of how the scam was detected, investigated and prosecuted, and the people behind that effort include Wadhwa and Bharara.
It is intriguing how Rajat Gupta, an icon for many Indian immigrants, was caught in Rajaratnam’s web of insiders? One wonders how Gupta, who knew the who’s who of United States and India and counted President Bill Clinton among his friends, could be so naïve about the Galleon founder’s ways to quick wealth.

None of the stories or books has either Rajat Gupta or Rajaratanam’s side of the story. Until then we have to do with chroniclers like Anita Raghavan, who have dipped into history and peppered their account with gossip. Indian readers will find many pages redundant as Raghavan has had US readers in mind while explaining Rajat Gupta’s family and its background, including Independence Movement, Partition and so on.

Yet the book is riveting and reads like a novel with the author criss-crossing the globe from Manhattan skyscrapers to Calcutta and Delhi.

Author: Anita Raghavan

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-81-7049-453-9

Pages: 493

Price: Rs. 499

Publisher:  Hachette India

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017