Bloomberg reports that indictments are coming in the Libor rate-rigging case, at least from the US.
The U.S. Justice Department is preparing to file charges this fall against traders from several banks in the global probe of interest rate-rigging. Meanwhile, U.K. prosecutors haven’t even decided whether they have a case.
The U.K. Serious Fraud Office opened a criminal investigation this month after Barclays Plc (BARC) was fined a record 290 million pounds ($450 million) by U.K. and U.S. authorities. Politicians including U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, called for a criminal probe, and the agency was told it would be given a budget to take on the case.
There’s a pretty jarring quote later in the article where a British law professor explains that financial crimes are taken far more seriously in America than in the UK. So we’re the aggressive ones, then.
This falls in line with the expected October surprise for banker accountability, where a few traders, not executives, get arrested over Libor, and the Justice Department conveniently drops the other fraud investigations they were pursuing. But even these arrests of traders won’t encompass the entire magnitude of just that element of the Libor fraud. Because we’re learning that this fraud went on for close to 20 years.
In 1991, I had live trading screens that showed the Libor rates. In September of that year, on the third Wednesday, at 11 o’clock, I watched those screens to see where the futures contract [on three month Libor] should settle. Shortly afterwards, Liffe announced the contract settlement rate. Its rate was different from what had been shown on my screens, by a few hundredths of a per cent.
As a result, I lost money. The amount was insignificant for me, but I believed that I had been defrauded and I complained to Liffe [ London International Financial Futures Exchange, which is where the contract traded]. Liffe explained that the settlement rate was not determined by what rates were actually in the market. Instead, the British Banker’s Association polled banks, asking them what the rates were. The highest and lowest quoted rates were discarded and the rest were averaged, giving the settlement rate. Liffe explained that, in doing this, they were adhering to the terms of the contract.
I talked with some of my more experienced colleagues about this. They told me banks misreported the Libor rates in a way that would generally bring them profits. I had been unaware of that, as I was relatively new to financial trading. My naivety seemed to be humorous to my colleagues.
Consider that the conventional wisdom among traders at that time was that banks would manipulate Libor for their own personal gain. This is far different than the story about “rogue traders” you’re going to hear when arrests are made.
We knew that the banking industry was corrupt. We didn’t know how corrupt, and for how long. But we’re beginning to get the picture. And the solution cannot be to arrest a couple marginal traders and let it end. A dismantling of this corrupt financial system is the only recourse unless you want to tolerate an economy based on fraud.