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Gates, Annan show sentencing support for convicted insider Gupta

By Grant McCool

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill Gates and Kofi Annan are among several prominent businessmen and humanitarians asking a U.S. judge to show fairness when he sentences former Goldman Sachs Group Inc board member Rajat Gupta for his insider trading conviction later this month.

Gupta, 63, the most influential and best-known corporate figure to be caught in a broad insider trading crackdown of the last four years, moved in elite business and philanthropic circles for decades. He is also a former head of the McKinsey & Co management consultancy.

A jury convicted Gupta in June of tipping his friend and business associate, Galleon Group hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, about Goldman's boardroom secrets during the financial crisis. He was found not guilty of divulging the quarterly earnings in January 2009 of Procter & Gamble Co, where he also served as a board member.

Microsoft Corp co-founder Gates, in one letter among about 200 written to District Judge Jed Rakoff, wrote that he wanted to help "round out Rajat's profile as you consider the appropriate sentence for him."

Gates worked with Gupta when Gupta was chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Gates wrote that "many millions of people are leading better lives - or are alive at all - thanks to the efforts he so ably supported."

The judge released the letters on Friday night ahead of the October 24 sentencing in Manhattan federal court at the request of a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors and Gupta's lawyers gave their consent, the judge said.

The letters came from company heads, academics, friends and family, including his wife and four adult daughters.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his letter, said: "I urge you to recognize Rajat for the good he has done in the world, to give him the credit that he deserves for helping others and to take into account his efforts to improve the lives of millions of people."

One of the themes running through many of the letters was that not enough of Gupta's humanitarian work came out at his trial. The judge had puts limits on what the jury could hear about Gupta's philanthropy.

His wife, Anita Gupta, wrote, "I know I have to accept the decision of the jury but I cannot but feel that who my husband is and what he stands for did not fully come out at the trial."

The maximum sentence for securities fraud is 20 years and the maximum sentence for conspiracy is five years, although it seems unlikely that Gupta would receive such a heavy punishment following his conviction on those charges.

Rajaratnam was convicted of 14 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy last year and is serving an 11-year prison term.

Gupta, who lives in Westport, Connecticut, is also a former director at American Airlines Corp and had ties to a prominent business school in his native India.

Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein was a star government witness at the trial, where some of the evidence was based on wiretaps of phone conversations between Gupta and Rajaratnam. All of the counts Gupta was convicted of involved tips and trades in Goldman stock in September and October 2008, including passing inside information on a crucial $5 billion investment by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Ajit Jain, an executive at Berkshire who testified by video at the trial, wrote to the judge that in his many years knowing Gupta socially, "he customarily chided me to become more active in philanthropic causes." Jain said Gupta had already "paid a terrible price" with the disgrace and loss of financial security that came with the conviction.

"I suspect that there are more meaningfully redemptive possibilities for Rajat than a substantial period of incarceration," Jain wrote.

The case is USA v Gupta, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-907.

(Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Gary Hill)

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