My emphasis- ek hornbeck
Big Banks Face Another Round of U.S. Charges
By Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg
October 6, 2014 9:30 pm
With evidence mounting that a number of foreign and American banks colluded to alter the price of foreign currencies, the largest and least regulated financial market, prosecutors are aiming to file charges against at least one bank by the end of the year, according to interviews with lawyers briefed on the matter. Ultimately, several banks are expected to plead guilty.
Interviews with more than a dozen lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations open a window onto previously undisclosed aspects of an investigation that is unnerving Wall Street and the defense bar. While cases stemming from the financial crisis were aimed at institutions, prosecutors are planning to eventually indict individual bank employees over currency manipulation, using their instant messages as incriminating evidence.
The charges will most likely focus on traders and their bosses rather than chief executives. As a result, critics of the Justice Department might view the cases as little more than an exercise in public relations, a final push to shape the legacy of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was blamed for a lack of criminal cases against Wall Street executives.
The public lust for charges is at odds with the view on Wall Street, where bankers and lawyers report fatigue with what seems like unrelenting investigations. With each inquiry, the fines have multiplied, stretching to nearly $17 billion for Bank of America.
And the scrutiny could drag on for years. The Justice Department, lawyers said, has widened its focus to include a criminal investigation into banks that set an important benchmark for interest rate derivatives, a previously unreported development that coincides with international regulators’ proposing overhauls to the rate-setting process.
The flurry of activity strikes at the heart of Wall Street’s role in setting benchmarks across the globe. The investigations suggest that banks, seeking to benefit their own trades, have compromised the sanctity of rates like Libor and the “4 p.m. London fix” for currencies, which investors use to value their positions.
At their core, the investigations into Libor and currency trading center on suspicions that banks manipulated the benchmarks for their own gain. In Libor, a measure of how much banks charge one another for loans, several banks submitted false rates to benefit their trading positions.
The foreign exchange inquiry has pointed to a more complex scheme to fix currency prices and game the market. Authorities suspect that banks, using information gleaned from their clients, collaborated to flood the market with orders just seconds before the so-called 4 p.m. fix, which serves as the benchmark for foreign exchange rates. The aim in part, authorities suspect, was to drive up the price of, say, euros before selling them to clients at an inflated price.
Traders at competing banks met in private chat rooms. Some traders became so cozy that they earned the nickname “the cartel” and “the bandits club.”