UBS AG’s $1.5 billion fine for rigging global interest rates expands the scandal to include bribery and highlights the influence of a trader in Tokyo who colluded with other banks to align their submissions.
The employee led efforts to influence Japanese Yen Libor submissions by paying brokers as much as 15,000 pounds ($24,400) a quarter and offering a payment to another for helping him keep that day’s rate low. The banker, identified by regulators as Trader A, worked at UBS in Tokyo from 2006 to 2009 and directly contacted employees at other banks to influence their submissions at least 80 times.
“I need you to keep it as low as possible,” Trader A wrote to the broker on Sept. 18, 2008, referring to six-month yen Libor. “If you do that ... I’ll pay you, you know, $50,000, $100,000... whatever you want ... I’m a man of my word,” according to transcripts released by the U.K. Financial Services Authority today.
UBS was ordered to pay about $1.5 billion to U.S., U.K. and Swiss regulators for trying to rig global interest rates, including the London interbank offered rate, over a six-year period. Regulators found that traders at the Zurich-based bank made more than 2,000 requests to its own rate submitters, traders at other banks and brokers to manipulate rate submissions through 2010.
The financial penalties are more than triple the 290 million-pound fine Barclays Plc agreed to pay in June in the first settlement of Libor-rigging allegations. Barclays Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond and Chairman Marcus Agius resigned in the face of political outrage over the scandal. UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti joined the bank in April 2011, after the period covered during the rate-rigging investigations.
“UBS’s misconduct is, although similar in nature, considerably more serious than Barclays’ because it was more widespread within the firm,” the FSA said. “More individuals, including managers and senior managers, participated in or knew about the manipulation.”
UBS rose 1.3 percent to 15.44 francs at 3:05 p.m. in Swiss trading.
Libor, a benchmark for more than $300 trillion of financial products worldwide, is derived from a survey of banks conducted each day on behalf of the British Bankers’ Association in London. Lenders are asked how much it would cost them to borrow from one another for 15 different periods, from overnight to one year, in currencies including dollars, euros, yen and francs.
Trader A Boasts
Trader A boasted that he was able to rig the benchmark because he was “mates with the cash desks” at one unnamed bank and that they “always helped each other out,” a transcript of a Feb, 2, 2007 chat showed, according to the FSA.
At least 45 bank employees, including some managers, knew of the “pervasive” practice and a further 70 people were included in open chats and messages where attempts to manipulate Libor and Euribor were discussed, the FSA said.
During the six-year period, four of UBS’s traders, one of whom was a manager, made more than 1,000 written requests to 11 interdealer brokers at six brokerage firms, asking them to influence other panel banks that contributed to Japanese Yen Libor submissions.
The findings are part of settlements with regulators in three countries over allegations UBS colluded to manipulate Libor and at least five other benchmarks. UBS will pay $1.2 billion in the U.S. and the bank’s unit in Japan agreed to enter a guilty plea to wire fraud for manipulating benchmark interest rates including yen Libor, UBS said. It was fined 160 million pounds by the FSA and must disgorge 59 million francs ($64 million) in estimated profits to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority.
As part of the case, U.S. prosecutors are planning to file charges against multiple bankers associated with UBS’s rigging of Tokyo interbank lending rates, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The charges would be the first brought by the Justice Department against individuals alleged to have manipulated Libor and comparable benchmarks in Europe and Japan.
During 2007, Trader A made more than 450 requests to manipulate Yen Libor submissions as he held large trading positions tied to the rate that matured at different times that year.
“Trader A embarked on a coordinated campaign to influence three month Japanese Yen Libor for the benefit of those positions,” the FSA said. “For this purpose, Trader A made internal requests, broker requests and external requests.”
Trader A set up a complex system of payments to fellow UBS employees, counterparts at other banks and interdealer brokers to facilitate the manipulation of yen Libor, according to the FSA settlement.
Between Sept. 19 and Aug. 25, 2008, Trader A and a colleague entered into nine so-called wash trades as a means of rewarding an unidentified broker with more than 170,000 pounds for helping rig the rate. Wash trades are where a trader puts through two or more risk-free trades through a broker which cancel each other out while leading to a payment of brokerage fees to the broker arranging the trade.
In another arrangement, the trader bribed counterparts at other banks with so-called facilitation trades, where they agreed to submit favorable rates in exchange for beneficial trades with UBS. On the occasions where Trader A’s interests were in conflict with other traders within the bank, he entered facilitation trades with his colleagues.
On Feb 5, 2007, the trader contacted “Manager A” on an electronic chat: ” ...last 3m fix if you cld keep high (6m wd prefer high but not urgent) and if we cld keep 1m low wd be appreciated, if doesn’t suit let me know and maybe we can offset our fixes thx any help much appreciated.”
The traders and brokers called each other “the three muscateers,” “superman” and “captain caos” and asked them to “be a hero today” in influencing submissions, the FSA said.
Thirty to 40 people have left the bank as a result of the investigations, Ermotti told reporters on a conference call, adding that behavior of some employees was “unacceptable.” He said he doesn’t expect any more departures.
The fine is another blemish on UBS, which is scaling back its investment bank to concentrate on wealth management. UBS said in October it may post a loss for 2012 after taking an impairment charge of 3.1 billion francs related to goodwill and other non-financial assets at the securities unit, in addition to costs tied to firing 10,000 people by 2015. The bank said it expects to report a fourth-quarter loss of between 2 billion francs and 2.5 billion francs, primarily as a result of litigation provisions and regulatory matters.
“We want to move forward and I think we’re showing our determination in the bank to move forward and to change the bank for good,” Ermotti said.
The bank didn’t qualify for the regulator’s standard 30 percent discount for cooperation because the settlement was reached later, the FSA said. UBS got a 20 percent discount.
UBS’s unit in Japan agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in relation to the manipulation of benchmark rates including yen Libor, the company said. UBS entered into a non- prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in relation to UBS AG and all its subsidiaries and affiliates except for UBS Securities Japan Co. Ltd.
One year ago, Japanese regulators penalized UBS’s Japanese operations, curtailing the bank’s ability to participate in the Tokyo interbank derivative market for a week, and ordering the bank to improve its regime of compliance and internal controls.
Ermotti said he doesn’t expect further sanctions from the Japanese regulator and that the bank is “confident” it will be able to continue to operate in Japan and globally as normal.
UBS was fined 29.7 million pounds last month by the FSA and told by the Swiss regulator it may have to increase capital levels for operational risks after a $2.3 billion loss from unauthorized trading by Kweku Adoboli. The former trader in UBS’s London office was sentenced to seven years in jail on Nov. 20 for fraud in relation to the loss, the largest from unauthorized trading in British history.