Born in Sri Lanka in 1957, Raj Rajaratnam became a billionaire during the technology boom of the 1990s but was arrested in 2009 for insider trading. Twenty-one more employees of his hedge fund, Galleon, were subsequently arrested--the largest ever case against a hedge fund.
Early Life and Career
Raj Rajaratnam was born on June 15, 1957, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering at the University of Sussex in England in 1980, and a master's in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1983.
Rajaratnam began his career in finance as a lending officer at Chase Manhattan Bank, where he made loans to high-tech companies. He shifted his focus to investments in the electronics industry at banking boutique Needham & Co., where he started in 1985. At Needham he began a hedge fund that mainly invested in technology stocks. He would later buy the fund, and rename it Galleon. Rajaratnam quickly rose through the ranks, becoming head of research in 1987. In 1991, by the age of 34, Rajaratnam was named president of Needham.
The technology boom of the 1990s put Rajaratnam on the fast track to success. Galleon brought in extraordinary returns, its main fund rising 93 percent in 1999. Rajaratnam developed a reputation as an aggressive buyer and seller with a robust personality. He saw his personal fortune grow immensely and, in 2009, Forbes magazine ranked him the 236th richest American, with an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion. Rajaratnam is also believed to be the world's richest Sri Lankan.
The billionaire became known for his charitable giving, setting up a local charity after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, and giving millions of dollars to other causes related to his home country. Rajaratnam also donated $30,800 to Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Yet Rajaratnam's rise to fame and fortune was not without problems. A series of legal challenges began in 2001, when a former Intel employee, Roomy Khan, admitted to giving Galleon confidential information about Intel. Khan pleaded guilty to the federal fraud charge.
In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service discovered that Rajaratnam and another Galleon executive created a sham tax shelter in 1999 to hide $52 million of income. Later, a panel of arbitrators found that the Galleon executives were not aware of the purpose of the tax shelter, but not before Rajaratnam had paid $20 million in taxes, penalties and interest. More importantly, Rajaratnam was now on the federal government's radar. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation in 2005 found that Galleon had repeatedly violated stock-trading rules.
Despite facing legal battles associated with Roomy Khan, Rajaratnam continued to do business with her, briefly hiring her at Galleon. In 2007, Khan agreed to let the F.B.I. tap her cellphone, giving the federal government access to conversations between Khan and Rajaratnam. These taped conversations would prove to be the key to a massive case the F.B.I. was building against Rajaratnam, with Khan as the central witness.
On October 16, 2009, police arrested Rajaratnam at his New York City home on charges of insider trading. Senior executives at companies including IBM, Intel, and McKinsey & Company were also arrested, charged with providing Rajaratnam with insider trading tips to the tune of millions of dollars. The SEC estimated the scheme's profits at more than $25 million. Rajaratnam pleaded not guilty, and was released on a $100 million bond.
Rajaratnam's arrest marked the end for Galleon. Investors immediately pulled their money from the troubled hedge fund, and it closed the same month. By the final days of Rajaratnam's seven-week trial in April 2011, 21 former Galleon employees had been arrested, and 11 pleaded guilty to charges brought against them. The case is the largest ever made against a hedge fund, creating a media firestorm in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and growing scrutiny of Wall Street.
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