Ex-SocGen trader trial pinned on fast trade secrets

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by latinotrader, Nov 8, 2010.

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6A448L20101105

    (Reuters) - French bank Societe Generale's speed-trading secrets, a young man from India accused of stealing them and a failed government bid to close parts of the criminal trial are just some of the elements of a New York jury trial starting Monday.

    The plight of former SocGen trader Samarth Agrawal draws further attention to high-frequency trading, a hot-button issue for Wall Street regulators, especially since the May 6 market "flash crash."

    Added to this mixture is another case involving a former computer programer of Wall Street's most influential bank, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The trial of Sergey Aleynikov is scheduled for November 29 on charges that he stole code in 2009 to take to his new employer, Teza Technologies LLC, a high-frequency trading start-up in Chicago.

    U.S. prosecutors asked the judges in both cases to close the courtroom for those parts of the trial containing trading details so the banks would "not be re-victimized when their trade secrets are disclosed to the public and their competitors." [ID:nN28133900]

    Judge Jed Rakoff denied the request for Agrawal's trial and Judge Denise Cote has not yet ruled on Aleynikov's trial in the same U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

    Agrawal, a 27 year-old citizen of India who has been jailed since his April 19 arrest, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison should he be convicted on the charge of theft of trade secrets. He could also be deported from the United States.

    Jury selection in his trial begins Monday with opening arguments expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.

    A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment. Agrawal's lawyer, Ivan Fisher, also declined to comment, as did a SocGen spokesman, Jim Galvin.


    Fisher won a pre-trial round on Thursday by convincing the judge to reject government arguments that shutting the courtroom to spectators and journalists was necessary to protect the bank's trade secrets.

    The government also said it had an interest in enforcing the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, which makes the theft or misappropriation of a trade secret a crime.

    It is common for parties to request the closure of courtrooms when proprietary secrets or sensitive information might otherwise be disclosed publicly.

    But Rakoff ruled from the bench that "the constitutional right to an open public trial cannot be overcome by the fact that it makes the government's presentation of its proof a little more difficult or even a lot more difficult."

    Prosecutors accused Agrawal of copying and printing more than 500 pages of algorithmic code from SocGen's high-frequency trading, or HFT, system in New York. The government said he used that information and his knowledge of SocGen's system to clinch another job at a hedge fund.

    Agrawal was arrested by the FBI on the day he was to start work at Tower Research Capital LLC in New York. Tower dismissed him and said in a statement that it hired traders "with no intent of accessing proprietary knowledge they may have acquired from previous employers."


    Financial firms have spent millions of dollars developing the computer-driven algorithms to create and execute trades in milliseconds. This form of trading has become an increasingly important business, generating millions in profits, but it was also the cause of the May 6 "flash crash" that roiled stock markets.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a new rule that high-frequency traders will no longer be able to gain unfettered or "naked" access to public markets.

    For one high-frequency trader, some of the issues in the Goldman Sachs and SocGen cases are no different than those that arise in a lot of jobs.

    "When it comes to these trials, it happens that they are both about high-frequency trading but this is more about employment law and confidentiality and competition, moving to a competitor, than it is about high-frequency trading," said Alison Crosthwait, the Toronto, Canada-based director of global trading strategy at trading broker Instinet LLC.

    The cases are USA v Agrawal, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-417 and USA v. Aleynikov in the same court No. 10-96.

    (Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)