The Libor Scandal Could Cost Leading Global Banks Billions
There have been plenty of banking scandals, but none quite like this: Investigators and political leaders believe that the manipulation of the Libor benchmark interest rate was the result of organized fraud. Institutions that participated could face billions in fines and penalties.
Eduard Pomeranz and Rolf Majcen are small fish in the shark tank of international high finance. Their hedge fund, FTC Capital, is headquartered in tranquil Vienna and manages only €150 million ($189 million) in assets. But now Pomeranz, the founder, and Majcen, the head of the legal department, have been able to strike fear in the hearts of the big fish.
“The Libor manipulation is presumably the biggest financial scandal ever,” says Majcen, a man with slightly disheveled-looking hair and Viennese sarcasm. Yes, he says, it did shock him that something like this was even possible, namely that a group of international banks had been manipulating interest rates for years. But Majcen takes a matter-of-fact approach to it all. As a financial professional, he is only one of many who want to get back the money that they feel they’ve been cheated out of.
At the end of June, British and American regulators imposed a $500 million fine on Barclays, the major British bank, and forced its CEO Bob Diamond to resign. Since then, a war of sorts has erupted in the financial sector. Investigators are attacking presumed offenders, banks that are involved are denouncing others in the hope of mitigating their own penalties, and small investors like Majcen are inundating Libor banks with lawsuits.
Deutsche Bank and more than a dozen other financial giants have come under sharp criticism due to the alleged manipulation of the Libor ( London Interbank Offered Rate), a benchmark interest rate. Some are even referring to the banks that are instrumental in calculating that rate a cartel, the sort of vocabulary not normally associated with the financial industry.
Regulators are using terms like “organized fraud.” European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has suggested that bankers ought to be called “banksters.” But in the case of some agencies, especially in New York and London, the outcry is also convenient; it diverts attention away from their own failures. For years, regulators overlooked what was happening right in front of their eyes.
Now that the authorities have woken up, they are aggressively pursuing the offenders — and are reaching all the way up to the boardrooms. More than half a dozen government agencies, from Canada to Japan, are investigating the case.
German authorities are also involved. A dozen employees of Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, have paid several visits to Deutsche Bank in recent weeks. They work for BaFin, the German federal financial supervisory authority, which has ordered a special audit, and are poking around the bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt, traveling to London, where its money market traders are based, and flying to Tokyo. Even the bank’s two new co-CEOs, Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen, are expected to sit down for a question and answer session with the auditors. This is particularly unpleasant for Jain, who, as head of the investment banking division during the period in question, was ultimately responsible for money market transactions.