Bloomberg’s William Cohan released a provocative piece last night, headlined by the even more provocative “UBS Libor Manipulation Deserves the Death Penalty.” We can only assume that Cohan is being metaphorical – after all, despite the rare occasional recent criminal charge no one has still gone to prison for the biggest coordinated manipulation of a benchmark fixed income market for years: something previously relegated to the fringes of crackpot conspiracy theories – after all, so many people were in on it, how can they possibly all keep their mouths shut – you know, the usual excuse against massive conspiracy theories, at least until they become conspiracy fact. Yet one wonders: will current and future ongoing market manipulations ever cease when there is no real deterrent: after all spending a few years in jail is certainly worth a few million in ill-gotten proceeds, even assuming the termination of a career in finance. Is Cohan being rhetorical? Or has the time for some true vigilante justice finally come? Because in a world increasingly best portrayed by the 2009 movie “The International” where one has to “go outside” a captured legal system to get real justice, is vigilantism eventually coming to every town near you, once the money illusion ends? And a bigger question – is this the main preemptive reason for the gun control push seen so vividly in recent days and months?
There is no point in mincing words: UBS AG (UBSN), the Swiss global bank, has been disgracing the banking profession for years and needs to be shut down.
… On Dec. 19, the bank paid $1.5 billion to global regulators — including $700 million paid to the CFTC, the largest fine in the agency’s history — to settle claims that for six years, the company’s traders and managers, specifically at its Japanese securities subsidiary, manipulated the London interbank offered rate and other borrowing standards.
The same day of UBS’s global settlement, which included the Japanese subsidiary pleading guilty to fraud, two former UBS traders, Tom Hayes and Roger Darin, were sued by the Justice Department and charged with “conspiring to manipulate” Libor.
… “They defrauded the company’s counterparties of millions of dollars. And they did so primarily to reap increased profits, and secure bigger bonuses, for themselves.”
To see the level to which UBS employees descended, one need look no further than their written communications, as per U.S. prosecutors’ document dump. “Mate yur getting bloody good at this libor game,” one broker told a UBS derivatives trader. “Think of me when yur on yur yacht in monaco wont yu.”
But, then again, UBS and bad behavior have become nearly synonymous. During the financial crisis, UBS took writedowns totaling some $50 billion, prompting the company to produce a 76-page, single-spaced, Orwellian transparency report. …
In February 2009, UBS entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department and admitted to helping American taxpayers defraud the Internal Revenue Service. UBS agreed to provide the names of some clients whom it had helped to avoid U.S. taxes and to pay a fine of $780 million.
Then, last month, came the conviction of former UBS “rogue” trader, Kweku Adoboli, on charges that he hid trading losses totaling more than $2.3 billion. The U.K.’s Financial Services Authority fined UBS some $47 million and charged that its oversight of London traders was too trusting. The bank seems more than a little out of control.
It found that unidentified UBS traders entered into “wash trades” — described as “risk-free trades that canceled each other out” and had no commercial rationale — in order to “facilitate corrupt brokerage payments” to three individual brokers at two other firms.
In a Sept. 18, 2008, telephone conversation, Hayes promised that if one broker kept the six-month Japanese yen Libor unchanged for the day, he would in exchange “pay you, you know, 50,000 dollars, 100,000 dollars … whatever you want … I’m a man of my word.” Lovely.
Hayes repeated his request for a “low” submission on the three-month Japanese yen Libor. Darin messaged back: “as i said before – i dun mind helping on your fixings, but i’m not setting libor 7 [basis points] away from the truth i’ll get ubs banned if i do that, no interest in that.” Darin eventually submitted a Libor rate two basis points less than the “unbiased” figure of 0.69 percent.
In levying the record $700 million fine, David Meister, the CFTC’s director of enforcement, said that “when a major bank brazenly games some of the world’s most important financial benchmarks, the CFTC will respond with the full force of its authority.” That’s good as far as it goes, and the CFTC is to be commended for rooting out the global Libor manipulation scandal.
But an even more emphatic message needs to be sent to UBS by its prudential regulator in the U.S.: You are finished in this country. We are padlocking your Stamford, Connecticut, and Manhattan offices. You need to pack up and leave. Now.