Finance bromance ends with pal wearing a wire in insider case

A “Wall Street” sign on a building in New York on June 27, 2022. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle.

They were business school buddies who landed at top Wall Street firms — Goldman Sachs and Barclays — lived for a time in the same Manhattan high-rise, played squash regularly and partied overseas together.

And then one of them wore a wire and recorded his friend allegedly asking him to delete incriminating text messages.

Former Goldman banker Brijesh Goel was arrested last month for insider trading. His friend, ex-Barclays trader Akshay Niranjan, is “co-conspirator 1” in the criminal complaint against Goel, and the man who turned on his buddy, according to people familiar with the matter.

“F—… This we need to delete,” Goel, 37, allegedly said in a conversation Niranjan, 33, recorded. “Did we put on any trade?… It has to be deleted. I don’t even have this chat.”

While betrayals are far from uncommon in the world of high finance or crime, details about the two men show how even the closest ties can rip under FBI scrutiny. Court documents paint a portrait of two young men establishing themselves on Wall Street, sharing good times and allegedly trading on details about pending mergers, until one of them turned on his pal.

Goel has pleaded not guilty to securities fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and his lawyer has taken square aim at Niranjan’s credibility.

“Sadly, the government rushed to charge Brijesh on the apparent say-so of one person,” defense lawyer Reed Brodsky said in a statement shortly after the charges were announced on July 25, adding that “the judge and jury will not make that mistake.” Niranjan’s lawyer, Robert Anello, declined to comment.

The two men had a great deal in common from the start. Both are from India, where they earned degrees from different campuses of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. They met in 2012 at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where they both pursued quant-oriented financial engineering master’s degrees.

Two Haas classmates who said they were friends with the two men recalled that they all belonged to the same social circle of about a dozen MFE students from India. But Goel and Niranjan also cultivated relationships outside that group, particularly among other students pursuing careers on Wall Street, said the classmates, who asked not to be identified.

Both men were very bright, but Goel, who was older than many of the other students, managed to stand out, one of the classmates said. On the very first day of classes, when a professor asked if someone could name the assumptions behind the Black-Scholes model for pricing options, it was Goel who raised his hand and correctly answered the question.

Goel and Niranjan were also avid poker players, though that was hardly unusual among MFE students, the classmates said. Instructors at Haas encouraged poker games because they forced students to measure risk and evaluate outcomes quickly, with money on the line. The stakes were low, with antes ranging from $5 to $20, because the students were on tight budgets.

According to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, Goel and Niranjan would start taking much bigger risks with money on the line less than four years after their 2013 graduation from Haas.

Goel won one of the most coveted placements out of the MFE program, joining Goldman as a risk associate and then moving to investment banking within two years, eventually becoming a vice president. Niranjan went to work at Barclays in interest-rates structuring and foreign-exchange trading. In the years that followed, the two became close and were neighbors in a luxury building in Hell’s Kitchen for a time.

They also liked to play squash, typically booking courts at the New York Health & Racquet Club. They would often meet either at a now-shuttered Midtown branch, near Barclays, or one in Lower Manhattan, close to Goldman.

“Let’s play squash after work,” Goel allegedly texted Niranjan in February 2017. But prosecutors say this time was different from other times the two met for a match. That evening, they claim, Goel told his friend about Goldman’s plans to provide financing to EQT AB’s potential acquisition of Lumos Networks Corp. According to the government, Goel had received a confidential memo on the proposed deal because he was on distribution list for the bank’s firmwide capital committee.

“Did you book the court?” Goel allegedly texted his friend the next morning. Prosecutors claim this was a coded message inquiring whether Niranjan had followed up on a plan to purchase call options in Lumos. Niranjan allegedly had, using his brother’s brokerage account.

It was the first of several trades over the next year or so which prosecutors say made the pair a total of around $280,000 in illegal profits. During that time, they also had some fun, including meeting up at the Tomorrowland electronic dance music festival in Belgium, according to a July 2017 picture that had been posted on Goel’s Facebook page, which has since been deleted. Another photo Goel posted to the now-deleted Facebook page suggests he was a groomsman at Niranjan’s 2018 wedding on a beach in Goa, India.

Prosecutors say the pair’s insider-trading activity cooled some time in late 2018, when Niranjan left Barclays and took a job with a proprietary trading firm in London.

A Twitter account that appears to be from Niranjan includes several re-tweets of motivational messages in 2020 and 2021, and a statement that “There exists no absolute truth.” The account hasn’t tweeted or re-tweeted anything since August 2021.

The two men’s friendship continued during this time. In September 2021, Niranjan, by then back in New York, allegedly loaned Goel $85,000. According to the government, that loan shows Goel benefited from passing tips to Niranjan, an important element of an insider-trading prosecution.

Not long after that though, both men knew trouble was brewing, court documents show.

Goel met Niranjan, who was working at Barclays again, on May 23 and told him that he’d been approached by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents about possible insider trading, prosecutors say. Goel allegedly told Niranjan he’d deleted certain text messages and advised his friend to do the same, prosecutors say.

They met again on June 3, but this time Niranjan was wearing a wire, according to court filings. He allegedly recorded Goel saying that they should make sure their stories were consistent. Prosecutors say Niranjan wore a wire to another meeting a week later, recording Goel asking to see his friend’s text messages from 2017 so that he could “have an explanation for every single conversation.” After he reviewed several, he urged Niranjan to delete a number of them. The obstruction of justice charge relates to Goel’s alleged destruction of evidence.

Niranjan’s reasons for turning on his friend aren’t addressed in court filings, but prosecutors typically offer leniency, or even immunity, to those who cooperate. Several major insider-trading cases have involved betrayed friendships, including former McKinsey & Co. partner Anil Kumar’s testimony against his mentor Rajat Gupta and Raj Rajaratnam. Another cooperating witness in that case, Thomas Hardin, wore a wire to collect evidence against people connected to Rajaratnam. Both Kumar and Hardin received no jail time.

There is no indication that Niranjan faces or will face criminal charges, but the Securities and Exchange Commission is suing him along with Goel for insider trading, raising the prospect of a fine and ban from the financial industry. And Niranjan has apparently already faced career consequences — Barclays said shortly after the case was announced that he no longer worked there.

Goldman said in a July 25 statement that it condemned Goel’s alleged actions and was cooperating with prosecutors and the SEC. “The 2017 and 2018 insider trading alleged by the government is egregious conduct,” the bank said in a statement.

Goel was put on indefinite leave by Apollo Global Management, which he joined from Goldman last year as a principal. The asset management firm issued a statement shortly after Goel was charged noting that the indictment focused on his alleged conduct prior to joining Apollo.

He’s now out on a $1 million bond, with his travel restricted to New York and northern California. His bail agreement also requires that he have “no contact” with his old squash buddy.

The case is US v. Goel, 22-cr-00396, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here