The scale of the UBS Libor-rigging is breathtaking. According to the reports from UK, US and Swiss regulators, nearly 2,000 requests for the Japanese yen Libor to be manipulated were documented, in instant messages, emails and by telephone. Almost every one of them was suspicious.
How many requests were made orally can only be guessed at. The extent of the rigging raises a number of questions and observations: this wasn't a mad moment for the traders involved. It went on for years – 2005 to 2010 – firstly to generate profits and later to cover up the bank's financial problems. It was simple – it was not picked up by five internal audits, despite corrupt payments being made to people outside the bank. It was standard behaviour – about 40 traders were involved.
It also proves that Barclays – whose top three executives were ousted as a result of the scandal – was not the worst offender.
At UBS the bosses have already been replaced – not as a result of this shocking behaviour but as a consequence of another scandal altogether – the £1.5bn losses run up by recently jailed London trader Kweku Adoboli.
There is more to come – RBS has also 'fessed' up to wholesale dishonesty in its Libor dealings and is negotiating the financial price it must pay. Six other financial firms are also in the frame.
One striking element of the cross-border settlements is the level of fines considered appropriate by the UK regulator and the whopping penalities slapped on these wrongdoers in the US.
UBS has to write a cheque for £160m to the Financial Services Authority – 30% of the UK watchdog's annual budget, which is provided by a levy on firms regulated.
Another £40m will go to the Swiss regulator, Finma. But £740m is on its way to the US department of justice and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
At Barclays the £290m fine was split £230m/£60m in favour of the US regulators.
Why the vast difference for the same offences? The answer is simply that they started in different places. The FSA is ramping up its fines. Offences after 2010 now attract fines of up to 20% of the revenue of the particular business unit.
At least, since April of this year, the public purse now benefits.
Think of it as a welcome tax on errant bankers.
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