U.K. launches Libor probe, U.S. DoJ prepares to issue indictments

Andrew Tyrie

Though British regulatory authorities have yet to file charges in the recent Libor scandal, the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing indictments against trader groups from several banks.

The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office initially declined to get involved in the multiyear investigation, though the office did initiate a criminal probe this month following Barclays’s $453 million settlement with British and U.K. authorities for its participation in Libor manipulation.

“It’s partly the difference in culture,” Andrew Haynes, a law professor at England’s University of Wolverhampton, said, Bloomberg reports. “In America, economic crime is something that’s regarded as desperately serious. In this country it is regarded as a problem, but there’s sometimes a slothful response.”

At least a dozen banks, including UBS AG, Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and the Royal Bank of Scotland, are being investigated by international regulators. Authorities charge that traders at the banks colluded to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, commonly known as Libor, a key benchmark interest rate used in derivatives contracts and other financial products and services.

“Now the priority is to come to an assessment whether the available offenses are there for us to prosecute in a criminal court,” SFO spokesman David Jones said, according to Bloomberg. “[If] the answer to that is yes we can, then we start going hell for leather and putting together a formal investigation team.”

U.S. charges against traders, which will likely be filed before October, focus on a rate-fixing scheme that extends beyond the conduct that Barclays admitted to in the recent settlement with U.S. and British authorities. As part of the settlement, Barclays admitted to submitting artificially low rates as early as 2005.

British authorities are facing public ire resulting from the recent scandal. The SFO, under previous director Richard Alderman, has been criticized for initiating high-profile investigations, only to close the cases later without any charges.

“Has the [SFO] got the message loud and clear that if it is possible to get a charge on these people, the public want that?” Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the U.K.’s Treasury Select Committee, said, according to Bloomberg.

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