Moments ago, U.S. prosecutors charged three traders who made up the infamous "Cartel" currency rigging chat room, and who were at the heart of a criminal investigation that has ensnared the world’s biggest banks over the rigging of currency rates. Richard Usher, formerly head of G10 spot trading at JPMorgan, Rohan Ramchandani, formerly of Citigroup and Chris Ashton, formerly of Barclays, were indicted Tuesday for conspiring to fix prices. They’re all outside the U.S. and will have to be extradited unless they surrender voluntarily.
As first reported back in 2013 when the FX rigging scandal broke out, the three used an online chatroom they dubbed ‘The Cartel’ to coordinate the rigging of foreign-exchange benchmarks by sharing confidential customer information, according to the U.S. charge. Another member, Matt Gardiner, formerly of UBS Group AG, has been helping prosecutors build cases against the traders, Bloomberg reported earlier.
Citigroup, Barclays, JPMorgan and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc pleaded guilty in May 2015 to conspiring to rig currency rates. UBS Group AG received immunity from prosecution, but its conduct breached an earlier agreement over its role in manipulating benchmark interest rates.
The Cartel chatroom ran from at least December 2007 until January 2013, prosecutors have said in court papers. It was limited to specific euro/dollar traders, they said. Many conversations took place just before daily fixes, the brief windows of time when data providers take a snapshot of trading so they can set daily rates.
As Bloomberg noted previously, the charges make good on the government’s long-running promise it would hold individuals to account in the case. As far back as September 2014, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said charges against traders were imminent.
Those efforts were hampered by issues of evidence and lack of cooperators, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg last year. Bloomberg published a series of articles in 2013 exposing how the world’s biggest banks were colluding to rig foreign exchange rates.
Some prosecutions are moving forward. Over the past six months, two currency traders were charged and a third pleaded guilty to rigging allegations. This summer, Gardiner and Ashton were banned from the U.S. banking industry for life by the Federal Reserve, which also imposed a $1.2 million fine on Ashton.
Unlike the US, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office dropped its investigation into currency rigging last year citing insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. The agency interviewed 19 individuals as part of its probe, according to a freedom-of-information request by Bloomberg in August, including four under caution. Interviews under caution generally mean the person is being treated as a suspect.
Some more details from Bloomberg for those unfamiliar with the story:
Citigroup, Barclays, JPMorgan and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc pleaded guilty in the U.S. in May 2015 to conspiring to rig currency rates. UBS received immunity from prosecution in the currency case, but its conduct breached an earlier agreement over its role in manipulating benchmark interest rates.
During the banks’ Jan. 5 sentencing, a federal judge in Connecticut urged the Justice Department to pursue individuals in the cases.
"Mischief will be best deterred if the people responsible are not only fired but that any compensation made to them that was triggered by the wrongful conduct, for example bonuses, are clawed back or disgorged," U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill said. "Frankly I would encourage the government to consider prosecution of individuals.”