Three former U.S.-based Barclays traders appear in UK court

LONDON Tue May 27, 2014 7:43am EDT

LONDON May 27 (Reuters) - Three former Barclays traders appeared in a London court on Tuesday as Britain formally began its first criminal proceedings against U.S.-based Libor traders, part of a global investigation into alleged rigging of benchmark interest rates.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) alleges that Jay Merchant, 43, a director of dollar fixed-income swaps, and interest rate derivative traders Alex Pabon and Ryan Reich, aged 35 and 32 respectively, conspired together and with others to defraud Barclays and its entities between 2005 and 2007.

The men, who spoke only to confirm their names and dates of birth, were ordered to appear before a higher Crown Court on Thursday.

Lawyers for Reich and Merchant have said their clients deny any allegations of wrongdoing. Pabon's lawyer declined comment.

British and U.S. prosecutors have charged 16 individuals to date in connection with the investigation into alleged rigging of benchmarks such as Libor (or London interbank offered rate), against which around $450 trillion of financial contracts from derivatives to credit card loans are priced worldwide.

U.S. and European regulators have meanwhile fined 10 banks and brokerages - including JPMorgan, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and ICAP - more than $6 billion over their alleged role in a scandal that has undermined faith in the financial industry.

NO EXTRADITION NEEDED

Merchant, Pabon and Reich voluntarily attended London's Westminster Magistrates' Court without the need for the SFO to start extradition proceedings and have been allowed to remain resident in the United States under their bail conditions.

But they each have to pay a 50,000 pound ($84,200) security to the court, which they will forfeit if they fail to appear for hearings. The next hearing has been scheduled at London's Southwark Crown Court.

The SFO has charged six former Barclays staff to date over the alleged scam, after in February charging three former London-based Barclays Libor submitters - Peter Johnson, Jonathan Mathew and Stylianos Contogoulas.

The investigation into benchmark interest rates has lately been partly overshadowed by a parallel global inquiry into allegations of foreign-exchange market rigging, which has led to around 35 people globally being suspended, placed on leave or fired.

However, the inquiry into alleged fixing of Libor and related Euribor rates has been gathering steam. British and U.S. watchdogs fined brokerage RP Martin $2.3 million two weeks ago to settle claims its staff helped manipulate Libor, and in March the SFO charged three former ICAP brokers.

Barclays was the first bank to settle U.S. and UK regulatory allegations of rate manipulation, paying around $450 million in fines in 2012. Regulators admitted privately they were taken aback by an ensuing public and political backlash, which forced out four top Barclays directors including Chief Executive Bob Diamond, sparked a fraud squad probe and several parliamentary reviews.

The British bank was last week fined another 26 million pounds for failing to prevent a trader from allegedly manipulating gold prices. ($1 = 0.5936 British Pounds) (Editing by David Holmes)