“Land Banks” and Collective Investment Schemes: Supreme Court on s.235, FSMA

6 05 2016

news-release-120514Asset Land Investment Plc & Anor v The Financial Conduct Authority [2016] UKSC 17 (20 April 2016)

The Financial Conduct Authority is in the news a lot these days. Andrew Bailey has been handpicked to head the agency but the chancellor George Osborne has come under fire for making the appointment without conducting a formal interview, thereby sidestepping the two candidates (Tracey McDermott and Greg Medcraft from Down Under) formally on the shortlist. However, the beleaguered FCA chairman John Griffith-Jones agreed with outgoing chief executive McDermott and both of them were “happy” with the chancellor’s appointment of Bailey – a beefy looking BoE insider who impressively holds a doctorate in economic history. As seen in the last post, Panama has been in the news a lot. The FCA had originally given 20 banks until 15 April 2016 to report on the extent, if any, of their involvement and links with Mossack Fonseca or firms serviced by them. But now it warns that prosecutions over the Panama Papers are not clear-cut. According to Mark Steward, head of enforcement, the media frenzy is “quite different from prosecutions – the two don’t necessarily go together”. This case involved a Panamanian corporation called Asset LI Inc trading as Asset Land Investment plc against which the FCA brought proceedings for carrying on “regulated activities” without authorisation contrary to the general prohibition in section 19 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Schemes for investing in land with development potential are commonly known as “land banks” and the operation of such initiatives first came into the regulatory perimeter under section 11 of the PERG Manual of the FCA Handbook.  

In Financial Services Authority v Fradley [2005] EWCA Civ 1183, the Court of Appeal had described the drafting of section 235 (collective investment schemes) of FSMA as “open-textured” by virtue of which words such as “arrangements” and “property of any description” are to be given “a wide meaning”. Arden LJ found in Fradley that section 235 must not be construed so as to include matters which are not fairly within it because contravening section 19 may result in the commission of criminal offences, subject to section 23(3) of FSMA. Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill found her Ladyship’s approach to be “helpful guidance”. On the other hand, he remained cautious of drawing analogies from comparative Commonwealth legislation presented to the court – such as the Australian Corporations Act 2001 – on the ground that differences in drafting warranted keeping the discussion strictly within the boundaries of UK statutes and authorities. Like the first instance judge, the Supreme Court referred to the English and the Panamanian company indiscriminately as “Asset Land”. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





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 »





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 »