When former UBS and Citigroup derivatives trader Thomas Hayes was found guilty last month on all eight charges of conspiracy to manipulate Libor, it was the verdict heard around the world.
Some of the world’s largest banks had already paid out $9 billion in fines for their involvement in the scandal over Libor, the benchmark interest rate for interbank lending that underpins the terms of some $350 trillion of loans and securities worldwide. But this was the first time an individual has been found criminally responsible for rigging the market. The repercussions of this judgment, which saw Hayes sentenced to 14 years in prison, could be immense.
It’s a serious victory for the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, whose previous record in gaining convictions had been dismal. It should also help mend fences with the US Department of Justice, which was investigating Hayes when the SFO stepped in and launched its own prosecution.
And it could have ripple effects. In his summation of the case to the jury, prosecutor Mukul Chawla said that while Hayes was “the first to face allegations of this kind…he is clearly not the last.”
The SFO’s Simon Varcoe confirms that the trial of five alleged co-conspirators of Hayes is scheduled for October, while a trial of six former Barclays’ employees, including a ‘senior British banker’ who has pleaded guilty, is set to begin next January.
“The fact that Hayes was jailed for 14 years has sent shockwaves around the City,” says one corporate lawyer. “So far it is just traders being jailed or coming up for trial. But people are asking. ‘Where are the banks’ risk officers, the CEOs?’And what if traders hand themselves in and turn Queen’s Evidence (co-operate with investigators)? A lot of people pretty high up must be feeling extremely nervous.”
The guilty verdict will no doubt provide additional impetus for a wave of civil cases against banks. “Bondholders are working up to making claims based on implied fraudulent misrepresentation by the banks at the time they entered into the transactions,” says a legal expert. There’s no time limit for filing civil fraud cases.
It would be a “nuclear button,” says one London lawyer. In order to avoid such an outcome, he says, “the banks will be highly incentivized to settle out of court.”