July 19, 2018 / 12:27 PM / 3 months ago

UK court sentences two former French traders to jail over Euribor rigging

LONDON (Reuters) - Two former French derivatives traders, including a one-time star banker at Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), were handed jail terms totaling more than 13 years by a London court on Thursday for plotting to rig global Euribor interest rates.

Banker, Christian Bittar leaves Westminster MagistratesMagistrates court in London, Britain, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Christian Bittar, 46, was sentenced to five years and four months after pleading guilty in March. Former Barclays (BARC.L) trader Philippe Moryoussef was sentenced to eight years. He was tried in his absence after fleeing to France when Bittar’s plea was made public.

The two men were charged with conspiring to manipulate the Euro interbank offered rate (Euribor), which helps determine rates on more than $150 trillion of financial contracts and loans worldwide, between January 2005 and December 2009.

Judge Michael Gledhill told Southwark Crown Court that it was “beyond irony” that Bittar, who earned nearly 60 million pounds ($78 million) during the indictment period - most of it legitimately - needed to resort to dishonest manipulation.

“Derivatives trading is often said to be a form of betting,” he said. “You took the analogy one step further, by loading the dice.”

Bittar, dressed in a dark suit and tie, sat in a locked dock and stood only to confirm his name. His lawyer, David Savell, said Bittar and his family “are looking forward to putting the case behind them and moving on with their lives.”

FILE PHOTO: Banker, Philippe Moryoussef leaves Westminster Magistrates court in London, Britain, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

Moryoussef’s lawyer, Francois De Castro, said his client was “stunned” to learn of the sentence and will eventually refer his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Barclays was the first of 11 major banks and brokerages to be fined in 2012 in a global investigation into allegations of rate-rigging. Its $453 million penalty sparked a backlash that forced out former CEO Bob Diamond, an overhaul of rate-setting rules and the British criminal inquiry.

Three years later, Deutsche Bank was ordered to pay $2.5 billion and was accused of obstructing regulators and “cultural failings”. Its London-based subsidiary pleaded guilty to criminal wire fraud.

Barclays and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

FRENCH CONNECTION

Bittar, called by a character witness “the single most talented trader I have ever met”, took vast positions on the direction of short-term interest rates and earned hundreds of millions of euros for Deutsche Bank.

His lawyer called him a modest man, who commuted to work on a moped. He was paid up to 11 percent of the profits he made for the bank, earning so much at the height of the credit crisis that he offered to give back his bonus, the court was told.

He was fired in 2011 over benchmark rigging.

Bittar, described by his lawyer as mentally and physically exhausted, will pay 2.5 million pounds in proceeds of crime and around 800,000 pounds in court costs.

Moryoussef joined Barclays in 2005, earning almost 1.3 million pounds until he left for Royal Bank of Scotland in 2007.

The two men, old friends who skied together, are the first to be convicted of manipulating Euribor in a worldwide investigation that has also examined the rate’s London equivalent Libor.

The outcome of the trial is a mixed victory for the UK Serious Fraud Office prosecutor, who had wanted to charge 11 people in the case. Germany and France refused to extradite five suspects, one defendant was acquitted and three others face a retrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict last week.

Moryoussef’s absence means that Bittar is the only defendant now in jail after a six-year investigation in which investigators analyzed nearly four million emails, phone calls, instant messages and other documents across four countries.

His lawyer De Castro, who says proceedings against his client were unfair, has said his client is under the protection of French law. The judge said Moryoussef’s breach of his bail conditions would be dealt with “as and when he is arrested and brought back before this court”.

(This version of the story has been refiled to remove the extraneous word in paragraph 17.)

Editing by John Stonestreet and Edmund Blair

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