Preet Bharara: The Sheriff of Wall Street

Preet Bharara

Preet Bharara

Financial cases are not the only thing US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preetinder Singh Bharara specialises in. India-born Bharara oversees more than 200 lawyers handling many of America’s important criminal and civil cases, involving international terrorism, financial fraud, public corruption and gang violence, as well as the resolution of alleged civil rights violations at various public venues. Right now in the news for securing the conviction for Wall Street insider trading Sri Lankan origin Raj Rajaratnam, Bharara had also ensured life imprisonment for the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civil court – a huge relief for prosecutors who had failed to get him convicted on 284 out of 285 charges. According to The New York Times, Preet Bharara worked for one of the most partisan Democratic senators in Washington, and a few years ago helped to uncover political manoeuverings by the Justice Department in the Bush administration. Bharara led his team successfully prosecute Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; charged terrorism suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with killing nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001; tried the first pirate in modern times; broke up a Russian spy ring; extradited suspected arms trafficker Russian businessman Viktor Bout and extracted a guilty plea from Jamaican drug trafficker Christopher Coke. In addition, his office has conducted major probes into Medicare fraud and illegal online gambling. And in January this year, it charged 26 members of the Gambino family in the biggest mob take-down ever in New York. But perhaps the most telling aspect about Preet Bharara, the next United States attorney in Manhattan, may be how he managed to win the trust and respect of even those who might have been his natural opponents. This is because he is seen to be even-handed when it came to dealing with politicians or scamsters alike. As he took on financial wrongdoings, The Wall Street Journal described Bharara as “Wall Street’s new watcher”. Since Bharara was appointed New York’s top federal prosecutor by President Barack Obama in August 2009, Bharara led a widespread crackdown on insider tradition on Wall Street and his office has charged 47 people with insider trading; 35 of them have pleaded guilty. Every few days during Rajaratnam’s trial, Bharara would quietly enter the courtroom and take a seat in the last row of the gallery. His consistent presence at the largest insider trading case was reassuring to his team, handing over to them confidence to execute their work. This case signaled that the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan was back as the Sheriff of Wall Street, says the NYT. Preetinder was born in 1968 in Ferozepur of Punjab. He grew up in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey and attended Ranney School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1986. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1990 and Columbia Law School in 1993. His father, a Sikh, and his mother, who was Hindu, were born in what is now Pakistan, before India and Pakistan were separate countries. In the violent migration that occurred after the 1947 partition, his father and mother both moved to the Indian side, with their families losing property and most of their possessions, Bharara has said. His wife’s father, a Muslim, also moved from the Indian side into Pakistan, also losing his home “and much, much more.” And his wife’s mother was born in Palestine, after her father, who was Jewish, escaped with his family from Nazi Germany. “Four different families, practicing four different faiths — all compelled to flee a half century ago because of their religion,” Bharara said in a speech to the South Asian Bar Association of New York in 2007. “It also means,” he joked, “that even when my wife fasts for Yom Kippur, and my father-in-law fasts for Ramadan, I get to stuff my face with samosas all day.” Former colleagues described him as “a skilled staff member in a political cauldron where Democrats were often negotiating among themselves as much as they were with Republicans”. “He does have an incredible manner and ability to work with others,” NYT quoted New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, who in 2005 served as counsel to Jon S. Corzine, then a United States senator, and got to know Bharara through their work on judiciary issues. “He never carries himself like he’s the smartest guy in the room, even though he often is,” she added. Today, Bharara is pitted against Rajat Kumar Gupta, who is corporate America’s poster boy ¬– the first India-born CEO of a global corporation — and who has interacted with top political leaders in the US and in India, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If Bharara is successful again this time – as he usually is — and secures a conviction on all counts against Gupta, he would have had locked up his fellow Indian-American for up to 105 years.

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