Kiwi lawyer caught in US insider trading case

A New Zealand attorney at a New York law firm has become embroiled in a major US insider trading case which could see a former Australian mate jailed for 20 years.

The Kiwi lawyer, identified only as 'Attorney-1' in court papers, felt out of his depth when he was tasked with overseeing an estimated $US1.2 billion acquisition by computer giant IBM of a Chicago software company.

He confided in his friend, Australian financial analyst Trent Martin who was working at a Connecticut brokerage firm, seeking "moral support, reassurance, and advice".

But Martin went behind his mate's back to use the highly confidential information to buy shares in the firm, SPSS ahead of its sale to IBM, US prosecutors allege.

He's further accused of passing the hot tip on to other financial broker friends who allegedly made thousands from the illicitly gained knowledge.

Now, Martin and two other New York stockbrokers face being sent to US federal prison for more than 20 years or a maximum fine of $NZ6m.

US prosecutors say the deal was motivated by greed and only came after the release of "highly confidential" information by Attorney-1.

The indictment states that Attorney-1 considered Martin his "closest friend in New York City".

"Martin and Attorney-1 sought advice from each other and shared common interests, a common cultural background, and the common experience of being single men who worked in demanding industries and lived far from their home countries of, respectively, Australia and New Zealand," the indictment says.

Court papers tell how the pair met at a Manhattan cafe in 2009.

The papers tell how the lawyer disclosed to Martin the anticipated "significant" transaction price and the identities of the acquiring and target companies while he was describing the magnitude of his assignment.

It's alleged that Martin, 33, then used the non-public information to buy shares with SPSS ahead of the acquisition.

Martin then allegedly told his Manhattan flatmate Thomas Conradt about the inside information, who then passed on the details to friend David Weishaus, who both allegedly pocketed thousands from the illicit deal.

Two others, codenamed 'CC-1' and 'CC-2' also allegedly profited $US629,954 and $US254,360 respectively, for a total profit in excess of $US1 million.

Martin, meanwhile, made just $NZ9500 from the shares' subsequent sale, it's claimed.

The prosecutors claim Martin told his New Zealand buddy that he wanted to return home in November 2010 after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched an investigation, saying he knew trading offences could lead to jail, and referred to the much publicised criminal prosecution of celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart.

The New Zealand Securities Commission helped in the probe.

In September 2011, Martin moved to Hong Kong, but the authorities finally caught up with him shortly before Christmas, arresting him on December 22 last year after a request from the US.

Now he has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of securities fraud.

"Martin is a licensed professional who knowingly disregarded insider trading laws to enrich himself, and then fled the US when he learned of our investigation," SEC Philadelphia office director Daniel M. Hawke said.

"Martin could run but he could not hide, as the long arm of the SEC will extend to those who flee the US hoping to avoid the consequences of their unlawful conduct."

Martin, from NSW, remains in custody in Hong Kong and awaits extradition to the US.

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