Couch-surfing fugitive longs for his old Wall Street life

The US government has a different perspective: Ahmed is a liar and a thief.

Last year, Ahmed fled the US, which had charged him with stealing at least $ 65 million while employed at venture capital firm Oak Investment Partners, and returned to his native India, where he so far is out of the reach of American authorities. He left behind his wife, three sons, multiple properties and tens of millions of dollars in American bank accounts.

Ahmed might be on the run, but he is hardly hiding.

“My living conditions are a far cry from my living conditions in the States,” the 44-year-old wrote in a recent series of emails to The Wall Street Journal. “I really have no assets here! I wish I did and…I could buy a nice car and an apartment.”

The messages provide an unusual if incomplete glimpse into the life of someone American authorities describe as a fugitive from justice. In court papers, Ahmed says he isn’t a fugitive and that he plans to fly back as soon as the Indian government lets him. He doesn’t address why he left for India in the first place and refused to discuss his case with the Journal.

Ahmed, slim, bespectacled and with a boyish face, had been living an immigrant’s dream. He arrived in the US as a student at Harvard Business School, then landed a job at Goldman Sachs before becoming a partner in 2004 at Norwalk, Connecticut-based Oak, one of the country’s oldest venture capital firms.

He was arrested in April 2015 for allegedly making $ 1.1 million through insider trading. That prompted his employers to dig into his investments for the firm. Oak alleged that Ahmed had defrauded the firm and its clients of millions of dollars using fake invoices, inflated fees or phony exchange rates, according to court documents.

Ahmed is charged with insider trading and fraud by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life in prison. He is fighting regulators over the freezing of his assets but hasn’t entered a plea.

A month after his arrest, he left for India, where he had lived until he was about 22 years old. That wasn’t as simple as it sounded: The US had seized his American passport. His Indian passport had been invalidated in 2008 because he had obtained US citizenship (India prohibits dual citizenship). Local authorities allege that he gained entrance via the Kolkata airport by tearing out the page of his Indian passport that said the document had been cancelled.

When Indian authorities learned what had happened, they detained him for 60 days. They are in the process of building a criminal case against him for entering the country using invalid documents. In his petition seeking bail last year, Ahmed’s Indian lawyer said he was “absolutely innocent and is in no way connected with the commission of the alleged offences or at all but has been falsely implicated in this case”.

In the meantime, Ahmed says he has been travelling between Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad. “I do have friends and family in many cities, so it’s OK,” he says. Most recently, he was staying in a friend’s apartment in a small village outside Hyderabad, a sprawling city with a hot tech scene.

A Connecticut court has frozen $ 74 million of his assets, including an eight-bedroom mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, two Manhattan apartments and millions of dollars of gold and jewelry.

Ifty, as he is known to friends, says he is living a humble life. He says he uses a shared computer in 15-minute installments to surf the web and answer emails. He depends on his friends and family for everything, borrowing money and living in their spare bedrooms or apartments. His friends buy him plane tickets; his sister buys him clothes.

The US has a darker view, questioning whether his means are as modest as he claims. In court filings, federal officials have argued that Ahmed is trying to prolong his Indian case to delay his return to the US. Earlier this year, the SEC dug up a newly created LinkedIn profile that identified Ahmed only as “Ifty A.A.” and listed his current job as chief of staff at a “sports village”.

Ahmed says the chief-of-staff position was unpaid and that he no longer has the job. (The LinkedIn profile has disappeared.) These days, he says, his primary occupation is teaching maths and English to street kids in orphanages and temples around Hyderabad. “In the smiling faces of my street children, I see my 3 sons,” he wrote. He says he dispenses free career advice to college students and would-be entrepreneurs, sharing his “past business experiences.”

One thing he isn’t doing is anything related to finance, despite being asked to help friends with their investments. “I have lost the love for investing,” he says.

Ahmed’s wife, Shalini Ahmed, a former Goldman executive, was charged in a related money-laundering case, but those charges were dropped earlier this year. Now she is spending most of her time searching for a job and taking care of their children, according to her lawyer.

Ahmed says he speaks frequently to his children. He has missed one birthday of each of his sons and two of his wife’s, “and that’s what hurts the most”.

US prosecutors are expected to initiate extradition proceedings against Ahmed next, people familiar with the matter said, potentially paving the way for his return to the US.

Earlier this year, a judge allowed Ahmed’s US lawyer to stop representing him in the civil investment-fraud case after the lawyer said he had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid legal fees and expenses. Ahmed is now representing himself.

His most recent tussle with US authorities highlights how far the former venture capitalist has fallen.

Back in 2013, Ahmed says he was treated at Weill Cornell Medical Center for cancer of his salivary glands. Earlier this year in India, Ahmed says he started having trouble swallowing food and water.

He filed motions with a Connecticut court seeking the release of $ 3,000 of his frozen assets to pay for treatment at an Indian hospital. The question the court needs to answer, Ahmed wrote in a court filing, “is whether a person who attempted suicide (but survived) be afforded medical treatment or should he be left to die?”

The SEC objected to the release of money, arguing that his request for funds “may well be the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, portending future requests for significantly more funds”.

The court eventually authorised the release of $ 200 for medical treatment. Ahmed said his local hospital still hasn’t received the money.

Write to Anupreeta Das at anupreeta.das@wsj.com

Jean Eaglesham contributed to this article, which was published by The Wall Street Journal

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