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Rajaratnam Inside-Trading Trial Begins

MANHATTAN (CN) - Opening arguments were expected today in the case of billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, accused of making $45 million through his Galleon hedge fund in a massive inside-trading scheme that already has brought guilty pleas from more than 15 alleged associates and tipsters.

U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell's court was filled to capacity for jury selection Tuesday, and a courtroom for the overflow crowds was packed with spectators watching on closed-circuit TV.

More than 100 people were called as potential jurors.

Judge Holwell went through a list of 52 voir dire questions, calling frequent sidebars for lawyers to question prospective jurors about sensitive issues.

"The purpose of my questions is not to embarrass anyone," Holwell said, adding that they were necessary to find a fair and impartial jury to serve on what is anticipated to be a 10-week trial.

After preliminary questions about their vision, hearing, medical conditions, and knowledge of English, Holwell pressed prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case, the participants, and players and companies that may be mentioned.

The judge read from a list of more than 50 companies, including Rajaratnam's Galleon hedge fund, as well as Atheros, Aegis, Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Sun Microsystems and others.

The list of more than 90 people who could be mentioned or might be witnesses in the case included Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who is expected to testify, and witnesses Roomy Khan, Ali Far, and Anil Kumar.

Danielle Chiesi, who pleaded guilty to insider trading in January, is not expected to testify, under her plea agreement. Chiesi made headlines when transcripts of a wiretapped conversation were released in which she said that any leaks about what she had done could turn her into "Martha fucking Stewart."

Jurors who felt that their knowledge of any of the people or companies compromised their impartiality addressed their concerns in sidebars.

After Holwell asked jurors about whether evidence about wealthy people and multimillion-dollar transactions would make it difficult to decide the case fairly, two people raised their hands.

At the end of the day, Judge Holwell said he would seal the transcript of the sidebar regarding the first potential juror's concern, to respect his privacy.

Jury selection continued this morning with questions about age, profession, educational background, family, and other background.

Opening statements were expected to begin in the late morning or early afternoon.

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