NEW YORK: Preet Bharara, a high-profile Indian-American federal prosecutor who had an Indian diplomat arrested, has been asked to quit by US President Donald Trump’s administration in a sweeping ouster of hold-overs from the previous administration.
Bharara and 45 other federal prosecutors, who were appointed by former President Barack Obama, were told on Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to submit their resignations.
Nicknamed the “Sheriff of Wall Street”, his jurisdiction covered New York’s financial district putting him in the limelight as he prosecuted more than 100 finance executives for criminal activities like stock trading irregularities using insider information.
They included several Indians like Rajat Gupta, the former head of the consulting company McKinsey and a Goldman Sachs director, who served two years in jail for colluding with the Sri Lankan-American hedge fund operator Raj Rajaratnam in a stock market scam using insider information.
Even though Bharara could be reappointed, his inclusion in the list of all the other Obama appointees came as a surprise because after a meeting with Trump in November he told reporters that he had been asked to stay on as federal prosecutor or US district attorney.
It was not clear if his resignation would be accepted immediately or if he would be asked to stay on to complete some pending prosecutions.
Chuck Schumer, a senior Democratic Party Senator who had reportedly recommended to Trump to keep on Bharara, said in a statement that his ouster could jeopardise on-going cases.
The Senate has to approve the appointment of the federal prosecutors, who are political appointees. Their deputies, who are usually career government lawyers, will temporarily hold the fort, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores
Bharara has also prosecuted several New York politicians for corruption. The senior-most among them is State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, who was given a 12-year sentence for corruption.
Investigations involving New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio and close aides of Governor Andrew Cuomo by Bharara’s office were in progress.
Bharara, whose full name is Preetinder Singh Bharara, was born in Firozpur, Punjab, in 1968 and immigrated to the US as a child.
He sparked a diplomatic stand-off between India and the US in 2013 when he had Devyani Khobragade, a Dalit Indian diplomat, arrested over allegations that she had made a false statement in the visa application for her maid.
Other diplomats accused of similar offences were not similarly treated by Bharara and the humiliating action against Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General in New York, evoked protests in India and retaliatory action by the government against US diplomats.
India’s strong action in support of a Dalit foreign service officer surprised the US government and media establishments and the then-Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret for the incident.
The matter was taken out of Bharara’s hands and diplomatically resolved and she was allowed to leave the US without prosecution.
Among his high-profile cases against banks, Citibank paid a $158 million fine to settle a case Bharara brought against it for misleading the government about loans. In another case, Citbank made a $7 billion payment to the government after Bharara began investigating its Mexican unit.
JP Morgan Chase was made to forfeit $7 billion for failing to inform authorities about a massive investment fraud by a client.