Why It’s Crazy That the Flash Crash Trader Could Get 350 Years in Jail

Oct 24, 2016

Wall Street critics often complain that market manipulators never go to jail. Tell that to Navinder Singh Sarao, who lost his fight against extradition from the U.K. to the U.S. in mid-October. Sarao is accused of causing the May 2010 stock market “flash crash.” The 36-year-old denies all the charges, and many observers doubt he, or anyone else, could have orchestrated the crash single-handedly. Instead, they point to an uncomfortable truth about 21st Century markets: computers, not people, largely drive prices moment to moment.

“I’ve not done anything wrong apart from being good at my job,” Sarao exclaimed in court in May, the only time he has spoken publicly since his arrest.

Even if he was the mastermind behind the mayhem, the maximum sentence he faces—350 years—seems extreme. Bernie Madoff only got 150. A lack of financial prosecutions has left populists looking for sacrificial lambs; Sarao may wind up wearing wool.

A version of this article appears in the November 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline "A Stock Trader Loses in Court. It's No Reason to Celebrate."

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