As regulators' campaign to kill off Libor continues unabated, helping to squeeze the 3 month dollar Libor rate to its highest level since the financial crisis, federal prosecutors in New York have won convictions on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy against two former Deutsche Bank traders for rigging the benchmark rate that underpins the value of nearly $400 trillion in financial instruments denominated in a range of currencies.
Matthew Connolly, who supervised the bank's money-market derivatives desk in New York, and Gavin Black, who traded derivatives in London, were convicted on the basis of testimony from three junior traders (two of whom pleaded guilty, and a third signed an agreement to avoid prosecution in exchange for his testimony), who said Connolly and Black directed them to aid in the altering of the bank's Libor submissions to benefit the desk's trading positions. The illicit behavior for which the two men were convicted took place between 2004 and 2011, according to Bloomberg.
Matthew Connolly, left, outside the federal court house.
The convictions represent a major win for federal prosecutors, but they can't celebrate just yet; last summer, convictions won by the DOJ against two London-based Rabobank traders were reversed on appeal, dealing an embarrassing blow to prosecutors in New York and the DOJ. All told, global regulators have secured $9 billion in fines from a collection of some of the world's largest investment banks, including DB and Barclays.
But for the duration of the trial, it appeared that Connolly and Black would also beat the rap, as the judge treated the fumbling prosecutors with open hostility, particularly after one of the government's key witnesses was called out by the defense in open court for lying about his bonus in a federal plea agreement.
The defense had some success in portraying the three witnesses as liars who molded their stories to avoid prosecution.
The three former traders told jurors that, at the urging of the defendants, they altered the rate or pressured others to submit false data to benefit trading positions held by Connolly and Black. Parietti said Connolly ordered him to disclose positions to the submitters in London because Connolly believed his team was being undermined by others at the bank who were rigging the rate in their favor.
The defense argued that there were no clear guidelines on how banks should submit their rates for the calculation of Libor until at least 2008, and that they weren’t expressly forbidden from taking derivative trading positions into account when making the submission until 2013.
During cross-examination, attorneys for Connolly and Black attempted to portray the government’s witnesses as liars who initially defended their practices to investigators and changed their stories only in exchange for a deal with prosecutors.
All told, at least 10 former Deutsche Bank traders have been charged with rigging interest-rate benchmarks, including Libor and Euribor, in the US and UK. Christian Bittar, a former DB prop trader who was effectively directed by the bank to influence rates (and who was pushed out after DB clawed back some of his bonus and turned him into a convenient scapegoat), was sentenced to five years and four months alongside Barclays trader Philippe Moryoussef, who received 8 years but was sentenced in absentia because he chose to stay in France.
The challenge for the prosecution will now shift to ensuring that these convictions stick. But while prosecutors will no doubt hold up the scalps of Simon and Connolly as a warning to others who might dare to impinge upon the sacred integrity of markets, the fact remains that not a single senior executive was charged in the scandal (though it contributed to the downfall of former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond). In fact, regulators even stepped up to protect DB CEO Anshu Jain despite his bank's flagrantly illegal activity, after Bafin, the German securities regulator, declared in 2015 that Jain had no knowledge of the illicit trading despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.