London forex traders found not guilty in U.S. rigging case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three former London-based currency traders were found not guilty on Friday of U.S. charges that they schemed to rig benchmark exchange rates, the latest verdict to emerge from a U.S. probe into the multitrillion-dollar foreign exchange market.

Chris Ashton, Rohan Ramchandani and Richard Usher, who worked at Barclays Plc, Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co, respectively, were acquitted of all charges by a jury in Manhattan federal court after a trial of conspiring to violate the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust law.

“Delighted with the verdict,” Jonathan Pickworth, a lawyer for Usher, told reporters outside the courtroom. “Richard can now go home to his lovely family.”

“Chris Ashton and his trial team are extremely grateful for the jury’s decision in the case,” David Schertler, one of Ashton’s lawyers, said in an email. “We were firmly convinced of Chris’s innocence from the outset.”

“We believed all along that our client, Mr. Ramchandani, was innocent of the charges and we’re overjoyed that the jury agreed with us,” said Heather Tewksbury, one of Ramchandani’s lawyers, in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. prosecutors announced the charges in January 2017, and the three came to the United States to face them voluntarily.

Prosecutors said the three traders and others colluded to influence daily benchmark euro-dollar rates, known as “fixes,” in order to benefit their own trading positions. They said the scheme ran from 2007 to 2013.

The traders used a chatroom they dubbed “the cartel” to exchange information, according to prosecutors.

Lawyers for the three defendants argued at the trial that there was nothing illegal about competing traders exchanging information about their positions.

The case followed worldwide investigations that resulted in about $10 billion in fines for large banks.

Several others have been charged in the U.S. probe, including Mark Johnson, a former head of foreign exchange cash trading at HSBC Holdings Plc, who was sentenced to two years in prison in April after being found guilty by a jury, and former Barclays trader Jason Katz, who pleaded guilty and faces sentencing next year.

Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, BNP Paribas SA, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and UBS Group AG all entered related guilty pleas, and were collectively fined more than $2.8 billion.

(This story corrects first paragraph to “latest verdict” instead of “latest criminal convictions”.)

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski and Diane Craft