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 »





Case Comment: Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner

6 01 2016

Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner and another (Case C-362/14) EU:C:2015:650

Comparing the mass surveillance under the Commission’s US Safe Harbour Decision to the world of financial misconduct, Max Schrems said: “It’s like with the banking crisis, there was outrage and then we all kept on walking by. Letters went sent, words were said. The usual drill. But there was not really any change.” The young Austrian law student’s successful campaign, funded through small donations totalling €65,000, to close the legal loophole that allowed US corporations to circumvent EU law caused quite a stir because the CJEU declared the Commission’s US Safe Harbour arrangement invalid. The Grand Chamber held that because of Articles 7, 8 and 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR), Commission Decision 2000/520/EC did not prevent Ireland’s supervisory authority from examining the claim made by Schrems (who was concerned about the protection of his rights and freedoms) in regard to the processing of personal data relating to him which had been relayed from Ireland to the US (a third country) when he contended that the law and practices in force in the third country did not ensure an adequate level of protection. Commission Decision 2000/520/EC was adopted under Article 25(6) of Directive 95/46/EC, or the Data Protection Directive, and through it the European Commission deemed the US to provide adequate protection.

The CJEU was unimpressed with the attitude of the Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) who refused to investigate a complaint made by Schrems regarding Facebook Ireland Ltd transferring the personal data of its users to the US to keep it on servers located there. The ruling brought an end to more than 4,400 US firms – including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – easily transferring European customers’ details abroad under the 15-year old agreement which was seen by many in the industry as a get out of jail free card. The scrapping of the pact, which purported to have an overriding effect over the scrutiny of national regulators (who must protect data moved by a company to a foreign server), sparked outrage in America and the Obama administration was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling. Overall, the decision tends to be seen as protectionist and anti-business in America. It also crystallised growing suspicion of US firms, Safe Harbour’s main beneficiaries, in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the scale of the American government’s digital espionage programmes. Read the rest of this entry »





Tom Hayes: LIBOR Fraudster’s Sentence Reduced, But Conviction Upheld

29 12 2015

750x-1Regina (Respondent) v Tom Alexander William Hayes (Appellant) [2015] EWCA Crim 1944 (21 December 2015)

In this redacted judgment, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) upheld Tom Hayes’s conviction but reduced his brutal sentence from 14 years to 11 years. The clawback of three years will come as a blow to the resurgent fortunes of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ reduced the sentence because Hayes was not in a managerial position and also suffered from autism (see here). Expressing mixed emotions about the outcome of his appeal against conviction and sentencing Hayes said that he “was immensely disappointed” by the overall result but was nonetheless “relieved and grateful” that the “immensely disproportionate” sentence passed by Cooke J was reduced. “I never asked for a dishonest or inaccurate LIBOR rate to be submitted. I was at secondary school when these practices started,” is how Tom Hayes still places himself in the grand scheme of things. The three judges found that Cooke J was right to conclude that the expert evidence sought by Hayes was of low probative value. He initially entered into an agreement with the prosecution under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) in order to avoid extradition to the US but later withdrew and changed his plea to not guilty. In more ways than one, Hayes is somewhat of a comeback kid and Cooke J had called him a “gambler”.

However, the Court of Appeal held that ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people, rather than the standards of the market or a group of traders, determined judging the extent to which a banker had acted dishonestly in manipulating financial markets. The court was clear that an example had to be made of Hayes so as to deter others with similar ideas from misbehaving. “I continue to maintain my innocence. I look forward to pursuing every avenue available to me to clear my name,” is how he intimated a possible appeal to the Supreme Court. In relation to his conviction, Hayes advanced six grounds of appeal but was granted permission to appeal on only one. The details contained in paragraphs 38 to 60 of the court’s judgment cannot be reported until the conclusion of Trial 2 (see here) before Hamblen J. Read the rest of this entry »





Case Preview: FCA v Macris: FSMA and Third Party Rights

17 12 2015

On 3 November 2015, a panel of Supreme Court justices consisting of Lord Neuberger (President), Lord Clarke, Lord Hodge granted permission to appeal in the case of Financial Conduct Authority (Appellant) v Macris (Respondent) Case No: UKSC 2015/0143. In proceedings reported as [2015] EWCA Civ 490, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the FCA’s appeal against the decision of the Upper Tribunal, reported as [2014] UKUT B7 (TCC). Longmore, Patten and Gloster LJJ held that Mr Achilles Macris, a Greek and US citizen, was identified and should have been given the right to make representations on certain matters set out in the final notice. The issue thrown up by the case is whether the FCA’s notices identified 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. Developments in these proceedings are keenly monitored by those who contend that they have not been given a right of reply despite being identified in FCA notices.

As regards identification, on 18 September 2013 the FCA gave a Warning Notice, a Decision Notice, and a Final Notice to JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (the firm). All the notices were in identical terms and on 19 September 2013 the Final Notice (the notice) was published. It informed the firm about the imposition of a financial penalty, or conduct costs, of £137.61 million which was settled under the FCA’s executive settlement procedures. The firm was penalised as a result of losses incurred in the “synthetic credit portfolio” (the portfolio) it managed for its owner JP Morgan Chase & Co (the group), a corporate entity branded – by Michael Lewis’ controversial bestseller Flashboys – as mostly “passive-aggressive” but occasionally “simply aggressive”. The portfolio’s trading related to credit instruments, especially credit default swap indices. The firm is a wholly owned subsidiary of the group. Read the rest of this entry »





SFO v Standard Bank: First UK Deferred Prosecution Agreement

7 12 2015

The director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), David Green QC, has overseen a turnaround in the ailing agency’s fortunes. Green is reportedly paid £175,000 annually and the press suggests he is likely to continue his role for another two years after his four-year term expires in April 2016. With successes such as the conviction of benchmark fraudster Tom Hayes (presently jailed in Lowdham Grange Prison) already under his belt, Green has his sights set on securing further convictions in other ongoing benchmark prosecutions. In Hayes’s appeal, Sir John Thomas LCJ has directed that a medical report should be filed by 9 December 2015. Hayes argued the Nuremberg defence and said that he was merely following orders. But he failed miserably in winning the jury’s sympathy and is a broken man. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but that did not stop Sir Jeremy Cooke from sentencing him to 14 years’ imprisonment for his fraudulent ways. Of course, only recently the SFO also secured the UK’s first deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). In SFO v Standard Bank Plc, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brain Leveson approved the UK’s first DPA in a bribery case connected to a £397/$600 million sovereign note deal involving Tanzania.

Two things stand out about this case. It is the first example of a UK prosecutor entering into a DPA or a “plea deal”. Moreover, the situation was equally novel because it was the very first time that the offence of failing to prevent bribery – under section 7 of the Bribery Act – was used since its introduction in 2010. The government considers DPAs as a new and important enforcement tool to deal with corporate economic crime. DPAs came into existence in the UK by virtue of section 45 and schedule 17 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The present case turned on the Tanzanian government’s wish to raise funds by way of a sovereign note private placement. The bribe took place when, in March 2013, Standard Bank’s former sister firm Stanbic Bank Tanzania paid £4/$6 million to Enterprise Growth Market Advisers (EGMA). The SFO contended that the improper payment’s purpose was to induce a representative of the Tanzanian government to favour Standard Bank and Stanbic’s proposal for the sovereign note deal. Stanbic and Standard Bank shared the transaction fees of £5.6/$8.4 million that were generated by the placement. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »