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. Former Deutsche trader Martyn Dodgson has also been convicted for insider trading in Operation Tabernula. 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 »





The LIBOR Trial: Episode Two

6 10 2015

The SFO lost this case: see here, original post continues. Only recently former rogue UBS trader Tom Hayes, who accused the Swiss lender of distributing a manual on rigging LIBOR, became the first person ever to be convicted of benchmark rigging. He got 14 years’ imprisonment for eight counts of fraud and is appealing his conviction and sentence. However, episode two of the LIBOR trial is underway in London this week and a number of brokers thought to be acting in cahoots with Hayes are facing a jury in Southwark crown court for manipulating the interbank rate. These proceedings constitute a continuation of the long promised clean up (being overseen by the Serious Fraud Office) of rampant cheating in the banking and financial services industry that erupted in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The sequel proceedings involve a batch of allegedly crooked individuals, namely Darrell Read (50), Colin Goodman (53), Danny Wilkinson (48) of ICAP (“a leading markets operator and provider of post trade risk mitigation and information services”); Terry Farr (44) and James Gilmour (50), formerly of RP Martin; and Noel Cryan (49, of Tullet Prebon). Their criminal trial began today and is expected to last 12 to 14 weeks and is likely to end early in the new year. All six men deny the charges and have elected to plead not guilty.

The new/emergent point in these cases is the part played by brokers, and not traders and submitters, in LIBOR manipulation. The half a dozen individuals identified above stand accused of conspiring with Hayes to rig LIBOR by suggesting numbers which were falsified and misleading. Darrell Read and Colin Goodman are said to have conspired with Brent Davies (also of ICAP) and Hayes. Terry Farr and James Gilmour are said to have conspired with Luke Madden of HSBC and Paul Robson of Rabobank to rig LIBOR. Farr also faces charges for conspiring with Hayes during his time at Citibank (which ultimately reported him over his cheating ways). Noel Cryan is accused of conspiring with UBS traders. Mr Justice Hamblen, a highly accomplished and respected judicial figure, will hear the case and it is being prosecuted by Mukul Chawla QC who saw to it that no loose boards were left dangling from Hayes’s coffin when he went down. Opening the case for the prosecution, Mukul Chawla QC argued that all six defendants conspired with Hayes and others and that Read the rest of this entry »





Hunter into Prey: City Watchdog Exposes its Achilles’ Heel – Part 2

6 07 2015

HeelThe issues in the last post must be examined in light of the scandal which erupted in late 2014 when the FCA came under heavy fire from the Davis Report because of the highly irresponsible way in which it had leaked sensitive data to the media earlier in March that year. Simon Davis, a partner in the Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance, stressed that there had been nothing less than systemic failure. Davis was adamant that the FCA failed to address the issue of whether the information given out might be price sensitive. The conclusion was unsurprising because the leak culminated in an article in the Telegraph headlined Savers locked into ‘rip-off’ pensions and investments may be free to exit, regulators will say which claimed that the regulator was planning an investigation of 30 million pension policies, some sold as far back as the 1970s. Consequently, big insurance companies had billions wiped off their share prices. The misapprehension that selected annuity products would be picked out meant that major UK insurers saw their share prices plummet. The insurers called for Wheatley’s resignation. Even the Chancellor George Osborne bemoaned he was “profoundly concerned” by the episode. In his inquiry, Davis unearthed multiple failures symbolic of a dysfunctional organisation, and he emphasised that the regulator was “high-risk, poorly supervised and inadequately controlled.”

Davis – who was unsparing in his criticism – held the FCA’s Board responsible for the flaws in the regulator’s controls on the identification, control and release of price sensitive information. The buck ultimately stopped with the board because it “failed in its oversight of the FCA’s executive and … failed to identify the risks inherent in the FCA’s communications strategy.” The episode required urgent action and an external organisation needed to review the board’s practices and effectiveness. So serious were the mechanical failures of corporate governance of the City watchdog. To scotch the confusion, in light of public hearings that ensued, on 17 March 2015 the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee (the Treasury Committee) published Thirteenth Report (2014-2015): Press briefing of information in the Financial Conduct Authority’s 2014/15 Business Plan (HC881). Read the rest of this entry »





Hunter into Prey: City Watchdog Exposes its Achilles’ Heel – Part 1

6 07 2015

Achilles “When the pendulum swung back it did so in dramatic fashion,” claims the iconic Howard Davies in his admirable sketch of the 2008 global meltdown entitled Can Financial Markets Be Controlled? “Bankers have vanished from the Honours lists in London. They are barely respectable in New York,” continues the first ever chairman of the abolished Financial Services Authority (FSA, 2001-2013). Yet in May 2015 the tide turned against the FSA’s successor. In The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) v Achilles Macris [2015] EWCA Civ 490, the legal pendulum swung back in favour of the banks because an unhesitant Court of Appeal safeguarded the reputation of the global financial elite by unanimously dismissing the FCA’s appeal against the decision of the Upper Tribunal: reported as [2014] UKUT B7 (TCC). At first blush, the decision looks like a small step. But properly understood it significantly derails clichés about the bugbear of evil bankers. It equally exposes the FCA’s Achilles’ heel. The issue before Longmore, Patten and Gloster LJJ was whether the FCA’s notices identified Mr Achilles Macris for the purposes of section 393 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) in which case the watchdog ought to have given him third party rights. The third party procedure secures the fair treatment of the reputation of third parties so that they are not presumed guilty in the enforcement process.

Oddly, despite the recent 800th anniversary of the fight for freedom incorporated in Magna Carta, present day executive procedures are not being properly followed. These two posts argue that the tough talking FCA’s Achilles’ heel is becoming increasingly exposed not only because of the important issues in the landmark case of Macris but also because of its unpardonable misconduct in relation to the Telegraph article headlined Savers locked into ‘rip-off’ pensions. Mishaps such as these seem to be turning the hunter into easy prey and questions loom large over its prowess to hold mischief to account. Similarly, these two posts also examine the new Senior Managers and Certification Regimes and question the conventional wisdom in relation to whether a heftier rulebook will bring us closer to a better formula for conduct. Light is also shed on the Supreme Court’s existing jurisprudence involving the FSA/FCA because Macris is in the process of being appealed Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Singh Sarao: Criminal Mastermind or Sacrificial Lamb?

28 04 2015

This article examines the charges against Navinder Singh Sarao and it argues that he is put in an invidious position in comparison to traders protected by predatory global banks. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (PCBS) had dubbed bankers “the masters of the universe” because of their repetitious recklessness and disregard for customers and shareholders. Yet, the banks are routinely able to pay their way out of trouble. From that perspective, Sarao becomes a sacrificial lamb and a scapegoat in America’s quest for bringing abusers of the market to justice. Indeed, Nick Leeson – the historic “rogue trader” from two decades ago, who wrecked Barings Bank by losing £832 million and subsequently went to ground – was of the view that Sarao is a likely scapegoat and he may not have foreseen the consequences of his actions. But can we trust the words of Leeson, who in his professional career, seems to have been nothing short of a congenital liar? On the other hand, the information available in the public domain points to the existence of a double standard that puts Sarao in a relatively prejudiced position in comparison with other bent individuals who remain above the law and are treated leniently.

Applying the hierarchy devised by Roger McCormick in Seven Deadly Sins: ‘Retrospectivity, Culpability and Responsibility’ – save that Sarao was not a bank operative – it is apparent that Case 1: “Clustered Criminality” has controversially been put behind Case 5: “Individual Criminality”. Clustered Criminality, of which benchmark manipulation is a classic case, occurs “where there is at least strong suspicion that a crime has been committed and although the culprits may not be immediately clear it seems likely that more than one person was involved.” Individual Criminality, which the “rogue trader” classically exemplifies, is “where there is clear evidence that a crime has been committed by a bank employee and the culprit (usually acting alone) is identified.” Thus, recent events may be read as turning the hierarchy on its head by putting Case 5: “Individual Criminality” at the apex of culpability. The approach is questionable because Read the rest of this entry »