Supreme Court on the ‘Houdini Taxpayer’

24 04 2016

UBS AG & Deutsche Bank v Revenue and Customs [2016] UKSC 13 (9 March 2016)

As infamously explained by jailed fraudster Tom Hayes, UBS must be credited with issuing a “handbook” on rigging LIBOR. Doubling Hayes up, in the ongoing LIBOR trial, Jonathan Mathew, one of five charged Barclays traders, says that he was merely following orders and just did what his boss taught/told him to do. The five men say everyone in the big banks “knew LIBOR was rigged”. As seen in an earlier post, along with Barclays traders, Deutsche Bank traders are facing criminal charges for EURIBOR manipulation and proceedings are ongoing in the case of R v Christian Bittar & Ors – first appearances were made at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 January 2016 and a mention hearing was held on 18 March 2016. In the instant case, echoing Templeman LJ in W T Ramsay Ltd v Inland Revenue Comrs [1979] 1 WLR 974, Lord Reed described UBS and Deutsche Bank’s behaviour as “the most sophisticated attempts of the Houdini taxpayer to escape from the manacles of tax.” The banks, which Lord King calls “the Achilles heel of capitalism”, may be disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling but most people will only be too delighted that top executives should become acquainted with some degree of retributive justice. The dry issue of tax is a hot political topic these days and the Panama Papers (see here) culminated in calls for the prime minister to resign for being a hypocrite.

Though this post is about the Supreme Court’s judgment, I use the opportunity to discursively expose other important tax issues reported in the media. Of course, Deutsche Bank announced last October that it would axe 9,000 full-time jobs and it has just recent lost its global position as a top-three investment bank. Research from Coalition, that ranks global investment banks by total revenue from fees and trading, shows that Citigroup and Bank of America are ahead of Deutsche Bank. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs retained their positions in first and second place respectively. Tim Wallace writes in today’s The Sunday Telegraph that once a cash cow, investment banking is now is serious crisis and jobs and pay across the sector has declined. It is a vicious cycle and the following insightful analogy is invoked “shrinking an investment bank is hard. It is like unravelling a jumper – once you start pulling on the thread it is hard to stop … then all of a sudden, you haven’t got a jumper at all.” Read the rest of this entry »





Catalyst for Change: Towards a Model of Conduct Costs in Pakistan

24 04 2016

Reposted from the Conduct Costs Pakistan Blog which I have recently started. As measured by the CCP Research Foundation, in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers seven years ago, global “conduct costs” are approaching stratospheric levels and are presently estimated to be $300 billion. But none of the data reflected in the final sum can be traced to Pakistan – a market economy whose legal system closely resembles the English legal system, despite the politically retrograde Islamisation of the 1980s – in clear and unambiguous terms. This blog is written with the ambition of articulating a conduct costs’ model in Pakistan, a developing country which is in need of such analysis so that its 192 million people are put in a position to make informed choices about banking and financial services.

In constitutional terms, a sound basis for the study of conduct costs can be found in Articles 37 and 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973. Laid down in Part II: Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy, Chapter 2: Principles of Policy of the Constitution, Article 37 requires the state to promote social justice and Article 38 imposes on the state a duty to promote the people’s social and economic well-being. On an alternative level, in The End of Alchemy, Professor Mervyn King relies on all his experience as a central banker to explain the wider dynamics of the global economy. He invites us to embrace the underlying theoretical argument that banks are “the Achilles heel of capitalism”. This attractive proposition is as advantageous a place to begin a study of the banks in Pakistan as it is in the west. Read the rest of this entry »





King and Country: Reflections on the Costs of Market Misconduct

1 04 2016

Read as updated SSRN paper with reference to the Panama Papers. Because of the Budget 2016, the chancellor has been accused of “looking more like Gordon Brown as a purveyor of gimmicks.” In difficult times when calls for his scalp over the row regarding the budget seemed to have eclipsed everything else, the rare bit of good news for George Osborne is that he can use the opportunity provided by the threat of Brexit – “a leap in the dark” which may cost the UK £100 billion or 5 per cent of GDP and 950,000 jobs by 2020 – to camouflage and obfuscate the real problems of conduct in the world of economics and finance. On the other hand, in an important interview with Charles Moore the former Bank of England governor Mervyn King showed hallmark signs of euroscepticism and said the people need to make up their own minds about the upcoming referendum. King also warned that lenders have not stopped taking excessive risks with savers’ money and the result is “bankers have not learnt the lessons of the Great Crash”. Unsurprisingly, in his somewhat controversial new book The End of Alchemy he makes the case against financial sorcery by arguing that it must be squeezed out of the world’s banking system. Perhaps, such failings are amplified further because “financial crises are a fact of life” and we are “moving into a rerun of the credit crunch”. Indeed, Lord King calls banks “the Achilles heel of capitalism.”

Below I sketch important/emerging issues in the intersecting themes of economics, law and misconduct as seen in the media, especially through the lens of “conduct costs” – some other themes are also explored. Mentioning Walter Bagehot and his classic text Lombard Street, which argued that the BoE should provide short-term financial support in times of crisis, King advises us that the old “lender of last resort” model (LOLR) is in need of revision because “banking has changed almost out of recognition since Bagehot’s time.” The former governor argues that the time has come to replace LOLR with the pawnbroker for all seasons (PFAS) system. For him, it is time for financial institutions to drop LOLR and embrace PFAS and be prepared to advance funds to just about anyone who has sufficient collateral. “The essential problem with the traditional LOLR,” argues King “is that in the presence of alchemy, the only way to provide sufficient liquidity in a crisis is to lend against bad collateral – at inadequate haircuts and low or zero penalty rates.” Read the rest of this entry »





LIBOR Roundup: Fraud, Misrepresentation and New Directions in Civil Proceedings

30 03 2016

ICE Benchmark Administration, which took over LIBOR from the BBA in 2014, has published a roadmap for LIBOR and banks will no longer be able to manipulate the interbank rate once a new system comes into place this summer connecting the IBA’s computers to banks’ trading systems. “We built new systems to do the surveillance which run about 4m calculations every day, looking for collusion, or aberrant behaviour, or possible manipulation,” explained the IBA’s president Finbarr Hutcheson. He expressed confidence that traders will no longer be able to lie to improve their trading positions and said that anomalies would be investigated and reported to the FCA. The banks have paid billions in fines in relation to the benchmark’s manipulation. The Wheatley Review 2012 engineered and guided LIBOR’s transformation because the distorted benchmark, underpinning more than US$350 trillion in outstanding contracts, was “not fit for purpose”. But of course, the review’s author Martin Wheatley was ousted from office because of his overt aggressiveness, or his “shoot first” and “ask questions later” policy for bad banks. Under IBA oversight, daily LIBOR rates will be rooted in market transactions “to the greatest possible extent” by using a “waterfall” system devised to begin with transactions but relies on human input in circumstances when trading volumes decline.

IBA is extremely confident that the move will bring rectitude to the scandal ridden financial sector. Hutcheson said that coupled with the earlier changes, the roadmap will ultimately make LIBOR “one of the world’s most trusted, scrutinised and robust financial benchmarks.” Insofar as benchmark rigging from the old days is concerned, after the settlement (2014) in the series of reported judgments in the Graiseley Properties case, new claims have been brought and a series of fresh judgments were published in litigation arising out of disputes between the Property Alliance Group – a property developer with a portfolio worth about £200 million – and the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS has been in the spotlight recently because of the fact that it has failed to generate profit for eight successive years and that its losses since the global financial crisis 2008 have exceeded £50 billion which is more than the £45 billion of taxpayers’ money used to bail out the ailing institution. Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Sarao: ‘Flash Crash’ Trader’s Extradition Request Upheld

28 03 2016

The Government of the United States of America v Navinder Singh Sarao (23 March 2016)

The case of Nav Sarao, the “hound of Hounslow” who faces a potential sentence of 380 years’ imprisonment on 22 counts in the US, has inflamed emotions and commentators have expressed extreme sympathy with the rogue trader who is considered to be the main culprit behind the “flash crash” of 6 May 2010. The disproportionate nature of his predicament is clearly illustrated by the fact that if extradited and punished in America, Sarao may well receive a harsher sentence than Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadic who got 40 years for crimes against humanity and genocide but will enjoy the right to a lengthy appeals process. It has been argued that Sarao had to be caged because he discovered a way to beat the HFTs at their own game. At the time of his arrest, senior traders even made public statements about footing his legal bill. Seldom has a corporate crime case aroused such a passionate response. Fellow traders dubbed Sarao “our spoofing hero” and the case against him was labelled “ridiculous”. Yet in the Westminster magistrates’ court judge Quentin Purdy disagreed and found that Sarao was extraditable to the US on the charges levelled against him. On the other hand, in making factual findings in the case, judge Purdy found that the downturn in the market was not attributable to a single event and the cause of the flash crash “cannot on any view be laid wholly or mostly at Navinder Sarao’s door” because even though he was active on 6 May 2010 the date “is only a single trading day in over 400 relied upon by the prosecution.”

Against this, the Commodities Trading Futures Commission accuses the Brit of exacerbating the flash crash and claims he “was at least significantly responsible for the order imbalances” in the derivatives market which affected stock markets to make matters worse on the day. The judge found that if found guilty of market abuse under UK law, Sarao’s activity would result in a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment being imposed on him and so the dual criminality test in section 137 of the Extradition Act 2003 was satisfied. He also stressed the importance of the public interest in upholding the controversial UK-US Extradition Treaty. Sarao is accused of engaging in a ferocious campaign to manipulate the price of the E-mini S&P 500 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by relying on a variety of exceptionally large, aggressive and persistent spoofing tactics. Read the rest of this entry »





Benchmark Manipulation and Corporate Crime: Insights on Financial Misconduct

22 03 2016

In the second innings things were different. The reverse swinging old ball meant that the Serious Fraud Office’s openers came back to the pavilion with a duck and those charged with misconduct and put in the dock began to eye up the opportunity of scoring a hat trick. Coupled with the reduction in Hayes’s sentence by the Court of Appeal (Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ, see here) on the ground that he was not in a managerial position and suffered from autism, the fact that Darrell Read, Danny Wilkinson and Colin Goodman, Noel Cryan, Jim Gilmour and Terry Farr were found not guilty of LIBOR manipulation casts doubt over future successful prosecutions in benchmark rigging cases. Hamblen J directed the jury to convict the brokers if they had played a “significant” role in helping him rig LIBOR. Apparently they had not. The Court of Appeal’s refusal to grant Hayes permission to appeal to the Supreme Court may provide limited comfort to the SFO but the acquittal of the above brokers charged in the second “sham” LIBOR trial has reversed the momentum gained by the authorities. The brokers’ exoneration exposes the SFO to the accusation that it has been wildly swinging a sledgehammer to smash a nut. So, having tasted blood after Tom Hayes’s conviction, taking a gung-ho approach to weeding out the City’s “bad apples” seems to have backfired because the clever brokers had simply let Hayes believe whatever he wanted.

According to the brokers, the SFO “didn’t investigate it properly and didn’t listen”. Despite big increases to its funding, claims that the SFO’s director David Green QC has overseen a “string of successes” and that the extension of his contract for two years is a “boon” for justice are proving to be totally without merit. These days it is the SFO which is in the dock and Tom Hayes’s tormented father Nick Hayes used the opportunity to defend his son and said: “Today Tom Hayes stands tall. He refused to testify versus the LIBOR brokers and paid the price … I’m proud of him.” Of course, measured against such poor performance, the fact that the embattled agency wants a top-up of £21.5 million in emergency funds for “blockbuster” probes to bolster its dwindling fortunes amounts to expecting rewards for failure; it is completely unjustified. Read the rest of this entry »





Supreme Court: Corporate Raids and the Proper Purpose Rule

17 01 2016

Eclairs Group Ltd and Glengary Overseas Ltd v JKX Oil & Gas plc [2015] UKSC 71 (2 December 2015)

In a judgment which may at first blush appear to be unremarkable, Lord Neuberger, Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Hodge held that the proper purpose rule applied to the exercise of the power conferred on the board – allowing it to issue a “restriction notice” whenever a statutory disclosure notice had been issued and had not been complied with – under article 42 of JKX’s articles of association and that the company’s directors acted for an improper purpose. Notably, section 793 of the Companies Act 2006 provides a public company the power to issue a statutory disclosure notice to any person whom it knows or reasonably believes to be interested in its shares. According to the Supreme Court, in circumstances where a company’s board of directors was entitled under the company’s articles of association to issue a disclosure notice against a shareholder and where the board was further entitled – in the event that they knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the statements given in response were incorrect – to restrict the shareholder’s right to attend or vote at any general meeting of the company, any such restriction would be invalid if the board’s purpose in making the restriction had been to prevent the shareholder voting at the meeting.

Lord Sumption gave the main judgment and Lord Hodge agreed with him. Lord Mance and Lord Neuberger agreed that the appeals should be allowed, but they preferred to not to express a view on aspects of the reasoning. Moreover, Lord Clarke agreed, but expressed a preference to defer a final conclusion on those aspects until they arise for decision and have been fully argued. Prior to this decision, the case had been reported in the Court of Appeal as [2014] Bus LR 835 and in the High Court as [2014] Bus LR 18. JKX Oil & Gas Plc, an English company listed on the London Stock Exchange, was the parent company of a group involved the development and exploitation of oil and gas reserves, primarily in Russia and the Ukraine. From that perspective, Lord Sumption used the opportunity to apply his unrivalled expertise on both company law and Russia to the present case. The exercise of a discretionary power by directors tends to be challenged on the ground that it does not promote the success of the company, a subjective question as regards the company’s business interests. Read the rest of this entry »








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