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Preet Bharara: Wall Street prosecutor or ambitious anti-Indian manipulator?

By Arun Kumar

The enviable record of Wall Street’s Indian-American prosecutor Preet Bhrara, known in India for his dogged prosecution of an Indian diplomat, has put him in the limelight, but some have also questioned his methods.

Time magazine put him on the cover and Vanity Fair described him as “Wall Street’s most fearsome foe”. recalled the Washington Post while calling him “The brash New York prosecutor who’s indicting left and right.”

Calling Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, “the most powerful prosecutor in the country”, the influential US daily said his “aggressive prosecutions are earning him a reputation as a fiercely effective and limelight-loving figure.”

“No target is apparently too big for him,” said the Post noting he is currently investigating the National Football League over painkiller abuses and New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew M. Cuomo over the closure of an ethics commission.

Bharara’s team of elite prosecutors, many of whom left seven-figure careers in white-shoe firms to work with him, have pursued investigations in over 40 countries, it said.

A naturalised citizen, Bharara was born in Firozpur, India, in 1968 and came to the US as a 2-year-old with his parents.

But that “did not prevent him from arresting and charging India’s deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, for mistreatment of a domestic worker last year,” the Post said.

“Everyone should understand that our motivation is always to do the right thing, and we don’t pull our punches, and we don’t care who you are,” Bharara was quoted as saying.

Khobragade, whose Dec 2013 arrest for visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper, touched off a major diplomatic row, “was a criminal,” according to Bharara as cited by the Post.

Bharara was nominated in 2009 by President Barack Obama at the age of 40. Since then, he has indicted 17 prominent New York politicians for malfeasance – 10 of them Democrats, according to the Post.

But Bharara may have also brought some cases that criminalized non-criminal behaviour, the daily said noting his office won 85 straight convictions for insider trading, by arguing that basically anyone who trades on any non-public information commits a crime.

The Wall Street Journal in a recent editorial questioned “Preet Bharara’s Methods” asking, “Did the US Attorney’s office fabricate evidence to smear a Wall Street target?”

Bharara, it noted, is being sued by financier David Ganek for destroying his business and depriving him of due process and other constitutional rights.

“Bharara has become a political celebrity for his aggressive tactics and portrait of US finance as akin to organized crime,” it said. “Yet in his zeal he has often jettisoned his obligation to fairness.”

“Bharara isn’t the first ambitious prosecutor to abuse his discretion, but perhaps there will be fewer in the future if Ganek succeeds. Discovery would be educational,” the Journal concluded.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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