Swiss bank watchdog gives top enforcer all-clear over Libor

ZURICH Wed Dec 19, 2012 11:30am EST

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's financial regulator gave its top bank overseer Mark Branson the all-clear over his past role as head of UBS in Japan at a time when the Swiss bank's traders there were manipulating benchmark interest rates.

"None of the five investigations that have been concluded up until today have shown that Mark Branson was involved in the Libor matter or knew anything about it," a spokesman for watchdog FINMA told Reuters.

He was speaking after UBS accepted a $1.5 billion fine on Wednesday as part of a global probe into how its staff orchestrated the manipulation of rates including yen Libor.

British-born Branson was chief executive of UBS in Japan from 2006 to early in 2008, much of the time that the Swiss bank admitted traders in Tokyo rigged rates.

Branson first become known to a wider public in 2009, when he apologized to a U.S. Senate panel for UBS helping wealthy Americans to dodge taxes. UBS later settled a U.S. probe into tax evasion by paying $780 million and handing over client data.

He switched sides in 2010, leaving UBS after 12 years to become head of regulator FINMA's banks division.

FINMA recused Branson from all UBS Libor matters late this summer, to avoid any impression of a conflict of interest.

General counsel Urs Zulauf has led FINMA's Libor investigations and coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the UK's Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Japan's Financial Services Authority.

FINMA's website lists Branson as responsible for investment banking, securities, asset management and private banking when he oversaw UBS's Japan activities until 2008.

However, UBS's Libor traders answered to investment banking leadership in London, and not to Branson, according to FINMA.

Nevertheless, Branson's job in Japan has raised eyebrows in Switzerland.

"Such a situation is extraordinarily difficult, but questions have to be raised in terms of what his role was in this matter," Christian Levrat, president of Switzerland's Social Democrats (SP), told Reuters on Wednesday.

"What did he know, what should he have known, how close was he to the employees who have left the bank - there are a host of questions that should be posed," Levrat said.

(Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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