Royal Bank of Scotland has handed the City regulator messages sent by one of its former traders in the latest twist in an investigation into potential manipulation of currency rates.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) began an investigation into the £3tn-a-day foreign exchange market in June following allegations that traders at major banks had found ways to manipulate a closely followed currency benchmark.
Swiss regulators have also begun to scrutinise the foreign exchange markets, regarded as among the most liquid in the world, sparking speculation that a number of major banks are facing questions about the way they traded leading currencies.
"It's a fact that foreign exchange manipulation was committed," Swiss finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.
The investigations are the latest attempts to clamp down on potential abuses of financial benchmarks, first highlighted by the Libor rigging scandal in June 2012 when Barclays was fined £290m for manipulating the key interest rate. RBS has also been fined for Libor rigging, as has Swiss bank UBS and more recently the broking firm Icap run by former Conservative party treasurer Michael Spencer.
The potential involvement of a former RBS trader in currency manipulation was reported by the Bloomberg news agency, which had first reported the potential for abuse of a currency benchmark operated by WM/Reuters and used by fund managers to value their investments. Traders at major banks were said to be putting in client orders ahead of a 60-second window when the rate is set by the benchmark. The benchmark rates are published hourly for 160 currencies and half-hourly for the 21 biggest currencies, including sterling, which are set by calculating the median price of trades taking place during the 60 seconds.
RBS would not comment on the Bloomberg report that it had handed the regulator instant messages sent to and from a currency trader who no longer works for the bank. The trader had left before any questions were raised about potential manipulation of benchmarks.
The FCA, which also would not comment, is said to be asking for information from Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and other banks in relation to the currency markets. The regulator is gathering information but has not begun a formal investigation; it is not yet clear if any firms are under any investigation that could lead to fines or other sanctions.
As well as interest rates and currencies, energy markets are also being investigated. The FCA began to look at gas prices after the Guardian reported that the £300bn wholesale gas price was potentially being manipulated while the European commission has also raided the offices of major energy companies amid allegations that oil prices were rigged for a decade.
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