The Hindu Explains: From Preet Bharara to Tamil Nadu's climate crisis

Who is Preet Bharara?

Preet Bharara never shunned the attention he got since 2009 when he became the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He did to his office what Vinod Rai did to the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India. Aggressive in pursuing Wall Street fraudsters, crime syndicates and sleazy politicians, Mr. Bharara built strong cases, but did so with an eye on the headlines. When the Donald Trump administration sacked 46 attorneys on March 11, it was once again Mr. Bharara who stole the headline.

Why was he fired?

U.S. Federal Attorneys usually resign when a new President comes into office. What makes Mr. Bharara’s exit controversial is the fact that he was apparently asked by Mr. Trump to continue in office, in November 2016, soon after the presidential election. There was no statement from the Trump transition team then, but Mr. Bharara said after a meeting with the President-elect that he was asked to stay on. In an abrupt turn of events, the White House asked him to put in his papers and sacked him when he refused.

It was New York’s Democratic Senator Charles Schumer who set up the meeting between Mr. Bharara and Mr. Trump in November. His sacking was the outcome of a debate in the White House in which the President’s strategic adviser Stephen Bannon’s view that all appointees of the previous administration must be sacked prevailed.

What has been the reaction?

Indians may have mixed feelings about the Firozpur-born Mr. Bharara, who grew up in New Jersey and studied at Harvard and Columbia. The Indian-American community feted him when he went all guns blazing on Wall Street. But the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade under his jurisdiction in 2013 made him a villain in the eyes of many Indian commentators. The diplomat was strip-searched by U.S. marshals, and bilateral ties nosedived. “Indian critics were angry because even though I hailed from India, I appeared to be going out of my way to act American and serve the interests of America, which was odd because I am American and the words U.S. are in my title,” he said later, expressing hurt over the criticism. Mr. Bharara also explained that it was the State Department that initiated the case against the diplomat for visa fraud and it was being processed in the normal course. He became personally aware of the case only a couple of days before her arrest.

What is his legacy?

Mr. Bharara has left a legacy that will last, based on two factors: dozens of convictions he obtained for insider trading on Wall Street and the convictions of New York’s legislative leaders in corruption cases. These cases not only brought individual culprits to justice but also laid bare the systemic rot in U.S. capitalism and democracy. In one case, McKinsey and Co’s former MD Rajat Gupta was among those convicted in a case of insider trading that had brought gains of $72 million for the accused. Sheldon Silver, the powerful Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Dean Skelos, Majority Leader in the State Senate, were convicted of misusing their legislative authority for personal gain.

What next?

As Mr. Bharara leaves office, there are doubts about the future of such prosecutions, as a lot depends on the personality of the Attorney. As Mr. Bharara built case after case of insider trading, a New York appeals court raised the bar by narrowing the definition of what comprises inside information in 2015, leading to a series of acquittals. In December 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Justice Department’s broader definition of what is insider trading. All that makes the role of a prosecutor significant in the capital of global finance. Appeals filed by Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos are also pending. According to latest media reports, the Trump Cabinet member, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, was being investigated by Mr. Bharara.

In the past, he has defended his spotlight-gaining tactics as a means of educating the public and deterring those tempted by corruption opportunities. Critics say his tactics are not in line with the legal tradition of evidence speaking only in the courtroom. But the registered Democrat has never been accused of partisanship.

We haven’t heard the last of Mr. Bharara. At 48, he has a long innings ahead. What we can be sure of is that nothing about him will be discreet.


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 8:58:28 AM |

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