Narratives of Misconduct: Emerging Trends in the Finance Sector

26 11 2015

As seen on this blog, the spectre of misconduct hangs over the finance sector. Even after seven painful years of conduct related revelations, the fall out from the global financial crisis (GFC) continues to haunt consumers and banking institutions alike. To conceal the low-point in public confidence, empty rhetoric and hollow buzzwords such as “social licence” and “real markets” reign supreme while regulatory spin seeks to reconstruct the common person’s trust in the system. Equally, to make themselves palatable to the public, market pundits can be heard trumpeting the mantra of “inclusive capitalism”. Yet an overall lack of ethics permeates corporate culture and a continuing tendency to act in a twisted way can still be gleaned from events. If anything, the deficit in trust is increasing because resort to outright cheating can still be evinced in numerous instances. For example, along with Deutsche Bank, Barclays is in the spotlight yet again after paying £320 million in forex manipulation fines to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) earlier this May; today, it has been fined £72 million by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for poor handling of financial crime risks. Equally, The Review into the failure of HBOS Group highlights the legacy of negligence in holding the finance sector to account. In addition to everyday outrage arising out of economic inequality, public anger in the finance sector has risen to a crescendo because the nadir of people’s sufferings has been reached. As the National Audit Office finds, state funds totalling £1,162 billion have been injected into the UK banking system to save it from collapse.

The paradox, of course, is that unlimited funds have been made available to rescue recklessly managed and overexposed banks – concerned less with integrity and more with ways to exploit token regulation – whereas the neediest in society are being shunned from basic necessities such as healthcare, care services, welfare and all the savage cuts that accompany the long-term goal of shrinking the state to 36% of GDP. Even to those who earnestly believe in the free market, official viewpoints and narratives often directly contradict reality. Most of all, officials fail to acknowledge wholesale abdication of duties owed to citizens and their attitude exposes a continuing tendency to overlook capitalism’s corruption. In the roundup below, among other things, further light is shed on developments trending in the bullring of financial misconduct and the theoretical jargon used by regulators is paired up with a cogent critique – by O’Brien, Gilligan, Roberts and McCormick – of the trickle down reforms enacted to positively anchor the finance sector to society’s needs. Read the rest of this entry »





EURIBOR Manipulation: SFO Charges First Individuals

19 11 2015

George Osborne recently compared bad bankers to shoplifters and Mark Carney said that nobody at the Bank of England (BoE) “will be hugging a banker” – despite the crack down some “bad apples” remain. Two days later, on 13 November 2015, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) issued the first criminal proceedings against 10 individuals accused of manipulating the Euro Interbank Offered Rate (EURIBOR). Deutsche Bank employees Christian Bittar, Achim Kraemer, Andreas Hauschild, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou, Kai-Uwe Kappauf and Barclays employees Colin Bermingham, Carlo Palombo, Philippe Moryoussef and Sisse Bohart have all been charged with conspiracy to defraud in connection with the SFO’s ongoing investigation – announced on 6 July 2012 – into the manipulation of EURIBOR, the daily reference rate, published by the European Banking Federation, based on the averaged interest rates at which Eurozone banks offer to lend unsecured funds to other banks in the interbank market, or euro wholesale money market. According to the SFO, criminal proceedings will be issued against other individuals in due course and the above defendants will make their first appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 January 2016. On the other side of the Atlantic, in the first US LIBOR trial, on 5 November 2015 a New York jury found former Rabobank employees Anthony Allen (global head of liquidity and finance) and Anthony Conti (a senior trader) guilty of rigging LIBOR and the pair face lengthy jail sentences.

Unlike Tom Hayes and Nav Sarao, Allen and Conti waived extradition to fight charges of conspiracy and wire fraud in America and they maintain their innocence despite having “left a paper trail a mile long”. Both men are British citizens and American prosecutors are adamant that the guilty verdicts are founded on “rock solid evidence”. Rabobank paid £662 million in LIBOR penalties in 2013 of which the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) imposed £105 million. Both men were convicted in a district court in Manhattan on every count of conspiracy and wire fraud they faced and the outcome is a major triumph for American law enforcement officials in the US Department of Justice which brought charges against the Britons a year after the Dutch bank managed to achieve the $1 billion/£662 million compromise in October 2013 in relation to pending US and European probes. Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Sarao: ‘Flash Crash’ Trader’s Extradition Appeal Adjourned

29 09 2015

Like Tom Hayes who got burned for benchmark rigging – but is appealing both his conviction and his sentence – Navinder Singh Sarao also suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome (autism). People like them only see the world in black and white and are unable to see shades of grey. Hayes got 14 years which seems to be disproportionate given that UBS had distributed a manual on rigging LIBOR. But he managed to play the Serious Fraud Office and achieved his main objective, i.e. to dodge extradition to the US. Sarao faces a potential sentence in the US, on 22 counts, which may be as long as 380 years’ imprisonment. The charges against Sarao include wire fraud, commodities fraud, commodity price manipulation and attempted price manipulation. He is charged with using his trading algorithm to spoof markets. After being granted bail in August he got his second lucky break and his extradition hearing was adjourned for four months because of changes, which seek to vary the start date of the allegation of the criminal activity by six months, in the charges levelled at him. Sarao was arrested on 21 April 2015. The US authorities, led by the Department of Justice and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) believe that Sarao is a malevolent individual.

But then again the Americans are also still running Guantánamo Bay despite the Obama administration’s promise to close the prison which Lord Steyn famously described by as a “legal black hole”: see post on Shaker Aamer’s return after 14 long years of being held there without charge. Because he does not have a spouse or a child, Sarao was initially refused bail because of posing a “quintessential flight risk” but was finally released on 14 August 2015 by Westminster magistrates’ court when his bail was reduced from £5 million to £50,000. His extradition appeal was due to be heard this month. Hitherto attempts to postpone the hearing scheduled on 25 September 2015 were unsuccessful: see posts here and here. The reasons for postponing the extradition hearing are related to the fact that the US authorities are pressing further charges against him and want to back date his criminal activity by six months to January 2009. Sarao told that Westminster magistrates’ court that he did not consent to being extradited to America. Read the rest of this entry »





Tom Hayes: Trial By Fire

19 08 2015

As ever, the world of finance is abuzz with sizzling news. Most of it, like the judgment in Plevin [2014] UKSC 61, makes pretty grim reading for banks. Similarly, forex fixing claims worth billions are brewing in London – a colossal currency market – because of last week’s $2 billion payout in New York by household names such as Barclays, HSBC and RBS and numerous others: indeed, the settlement of class action litigation with investors, arising out of the rigging of WM/Reuters 4pm London Fix, has been tipped as opening the floodgates. This comes off the heels of May 2015’s foreign exchange (forex or FX) rigging penalties of $5.6 billion: watch excellent video on how the “Cartel” and Coiled Cobra” rigged the marketplace. Such events leave little room for doubt that the LIBOR scandal was just the tip of the iceberg because the rigging of the $5.3 trillion-a-day forex markets completely dwarfs the total $500-$800 trillion value of financial contracts underpinned by LIBOR. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Barclays and RBS all pleaded guilty in May in forex related criminal cases. In other news, things are looking dreadful for those charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). In the first LIBOR trial, Tom Hayes, an obscure yen derivatives trader in UBS and Citigroup became the world’s first individual to be tried and convicted for benchmark rigging. He got 14 years’ imprisonment for his crimes. Against this nightmare sentence, his trial has set a chilling precedent for the 12 others in his shoes who are awaiting trial.

Hayes contended that he was operating in a “grey area” where there were “no rules” and that he had no compliance training, but this did nothing to help him. His predicament gives promise to the maxim that “the age of irresponsibility is over.” In the case against him, Hayes was described as a “ringmaster” whose avarice knew no bounds. The archetypical Foucauldian fiend, he stood accused of using corruption and accepted making “concerted efforts to influence LIBOR” but argued he “was operating within a system”. Discussing the dilemma’s associated with punishment, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Foucault concludes that the offender is “worse than an enemy” and that transgressing the boundaries set by society makes him “nothing less than a traitor, a monster.” The outcome of this pivotal case will serve as a yardstick for future prosecutions against benchmark manipulators and fraudsters. The system had to make an example of Hayes to create a deterrent effect, others will think twice before following in his wretched footsteps. 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 »