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 »





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 »





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 »