Attempts by George Osborne to pin the blame for the Libor fixing scandal on former Labour ministers seem to be undermined after deputy Bank of England governor Paul Tucker told MPs that he had not been leaned on to encourage Barclays to cut its rates.
Tucker, a candidate to succeed Mervin King as Bank governor, said that he did not discuss Libor with Ed Balls or Baroness Shriti Vadera during October 2008. Tucker also denied he had personally lent on Barclays to reduce its Libor submission.
Tucker was brought into the Libor scandal after Barclays published a memo which was interpreted by one insider as encouraging the bank to cut its Libor submissions at the behest of "senior Whitehall figures". Hours after that memo was published last Tuesday, the chancellor told the Spectator that allies of Gordon Brown were "clearly involved" in attempts to manipulate the Libor rate. He added that Balls had "questions to answer".
Balls on Monday called on Osborne to withdraw his claims and apologise. "It is now absolutely clear that the Chancellor's allegations last week were totally false and completely without foundation. George Osborne should now publicly withdraw these false allegations and apologise. With the economy in a double-dip recession and our banks in need of serious reform, the country needs a Chancellor who works full-time in the national economic interest," said Balls.
In his appearance before MPs on the Treasury select committee, Tucker was asked repeatedly whether he had been asked by officials or ministers – and specifically Vadera – about whether he had been asked to lean on Barclays. "Absolutely not," Tucker replied.
Chris Leslie MP, Labour shadow financial secretary, said: "The game is up for George Osborne. This is now the final nail in the coffin of the Tory smear campaign the Chancellor led last week. It is now crystal clear that the allegations he threw around were completely wrong and without foundation".
A file note written by Diamond on October 29 2008 – which was misinterpreted by Diamond's deputy as a signal to cut Libor rates – was "not completely accurate" Tucker told MPs.
Tucker said that the file note written by Diamond – who quit last week in the wake of the £290m fine levelled on Barclays by three regulators – gave "the wrong impression".
Emails released earlier showed that Sir Jeremy Heywood, who was then the chief of staff in Downing Street, was asking questions about Libor. Tucker also mentioned senior civil servants Tom Scholar, Sir Jon Cunliffe and Sir Nick Macpherson as asking questions but stressed that they were not putting influence on him to reduce the rates at which at Barclays was making submissions to Libor.
Libor is set by 15 banks who give a figure at which they think they will be able to borrow over periods ranging from over night or 12 months each day. Barclays was submitting rates at the high level of all the banks. Tucker said the concerns from senior Whitehall figures was because "Barclays was next in line" in potentially needing a bailout after Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds/HBOS were bailed out by the taxpayer on 13 October.
One element of concern, said Tucker, was: "Is Barclays OK? Was the right decision taken when Barclays didn't take capital from the government?"
"There was a degree of anxiety about that," said Tucker. He said the conversation with Diamond on 29 October was intended to urge him that his money market desk setting the Libor submission could "march you over the cliff".
Tucker admitted he had not made a note of the conversation at the centre of the controversy.
The fine against Barclays covered two aspects of Barclays behaviour – the period currently under scrutiny during 2008 and from 2005 when Barclays traders were changing rates as favours. "We were not aware of allegations of dishonesty," said Tucker.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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