Arrested analyst allegedly tipped off hedge fund to Microsoft deal
Federal authorities have arrested a financial analyst who shared inside information about a 2009 advertising deal between Microsoft and Yahoo. He allegedly got the tip from a Microsoft executive.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — A financial analyst provided inside information about a blockbuster deal between Microsoft and Yahoo to a portfolio manager at a hedge fund that’s become the target of a sweeping investigation, authorities said Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors in New York announced the securities-fraud charges against Sandeep Aggarwal a day after he was arrested in San Jose, Calif. There was no immediate response to a phone message left Tuesday with his attorney.
The arrest marked the latest development in the case against SAC Capital. Last week, prosecutors brought criminal charges against the firm after the Securities and Exchange Commission sought its own sanctions.
SAC Capital’s billionaire founder, Steven Cohen, hasn’t been charged, and he’s repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. But prosecutors said last week that one of his portfolio managers, Richard Lee, pleaded guilty July 10 and is cooperating with the probe.
A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday alleges wiretap evidence shows Aggarwal gave Lee inside information in 2009 about a pending search-advertising partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo.
In one conversation, he told Lee he had spoken to “a senior guy at Microsoft” who had been “very, very accurate in the past in terms of ... telling me what’s going on,” according to the complaint.
Aggarwal told Lee that Yahoo executives had been meeting with senior Microsoft officials at Microsoft’s offices and that an announcement would be made on the agreement within two weeks, the complaint alleges.
Aggarwal spoke to about 14 traders or portfolio managers at various hedge funds about the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership, the U.S. said.
Prosecutors also allege in the criminal complaint that a Microsoft executive working in the Bing division is a co-conspirator. They didn’t name the executive.
Microsoft issued a statement Tuesday, saying: “As a company we have zero tolerance for insider trading, and we assisted the government with this investigation. We have strict policies that prohibit insider trading, and we expect our employees to adhere to them.”
Microsoft also said that the company employee who is alleged to have told Aggar- wal about the Microsoft-Yahoo talks has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation. Microsoft did not identify the employee.
As a result of Aggarwal’s tips, SAC Capital on July 10, 2009, bought “several hundred thousand shares of Yahoo stock” while Lee bought 25,000 Yahoo shares in his personal account, according to the criminal complaint.
Lee used the tip to purchase several hundred thousand shares of Yahoo stock for his hedge fund, and 25,000 shares for his personal account, prosecutors said.
Aggarwal, 40, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The term could be much lower under federal sentencing guidelines.
To date, 83 people have been charged by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office with insider trading, with 74 either pleading guilty or being convicted at trial. Eight have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial while one man is a fugitive.
Bharara said today Aggarwal is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for passing along an inside tip about a pending deal between Yahoo and Microsoft.
“Sandeep Aggarwal leveraged his contacts in the technology industry to obtain an illegal edge in the form of inside information about a highly anticipated development, then lied about his criminal conduct,” Bharara said in a statement.
Microsoft’s statement was reported by Seattle Times technology reporter Janet I. Tu. Material from Bloomberg News is also used in this report.