LONDON (Reuters) - Former ICAP broker Darrell Read was cleared by a London jury on Thursday of conspiring with convicted trader Tom Hayes to rig Libor interest rates, joining his five former co-defendants in the court’s public gallery to cheers and applause.
The 12-person jury, which on Wednesday unanimously cleared Colin Goodman, Danny Wilkinson, Terry Farr, James Gilmour and Noel Cryan, took less than an hour to also acquit Read of a final count of conspiracy to defraud by a majority verdict.
The final verdict deals a significant blow to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after a marathon, four-month trial that has prompted some lawyers to urge the agency to re-examine its evidence in two other prosecutions of people for alleged financial benchmark rigging.
The five brokers already acquitted filed in to the court to support Read, whose family is in New Zealand. “We’ve been through a lot together,” said Cryan, a former Tullett Prebon broker.
Former RP Martin broker Terry Farr declared himself “over the moon” (delighted) after the hearing outside court, as some of the group headed to a pub to relax “for the first time in four-and-a-half years”.
“Apart from being acutely embarrassing to the SFO, these verdicts show how difficult it is to demonstrate criminal activity by individuals for this type of market misconduct,” said Alison McHaffie, a partner with law firm CMS.
SFO head David Green said on Wednesday, after the first five acquittals were announced, that he stood by the prosecution and that “nobody could sensibly suggest that these charges should not have been brought and considered by a jury.”
The SFO merely noted Read’s acquittal on Thursday.
The six men had been charged with conspiracy to defraud by rigging the London interbank offered rate (Libor), which helps determine borrowing costs for about $450 trillion of contracts and consumer loans worldwide.
The world’s third Libor trial comes more than seven years after U.S. regulators first examined how Libor rates were set, sowing the seeds of a global inquiry that led to authorities fining leading banks and brokerages $9 billion, charging about 30 people and overhauling how financial benchmarks are policed.
It was held after the conviction of Hayes, a former star UBS and Citigroup trader, who was jailed for 14 years in August for conspiracy to rig Libor. His sentence was reduced to 11 years on appeal.
The SFO alleged the six former brokers were among those to help Tokyo-based Hayes skew interbank borrowing rates to suit his trading position by persuading their bank clients to nudge rates according to his wishes.
Defense lawyers told the jury the defendants were low-level scapegoats for a fundamentally flawed financial system, which was self-governing, and that the trial was unfair and unjust.
Lawyers not directly involved in the case speculated that the jury had reached such a speedy verdict partly because they had sympathized with the brokers. Wilkinson also suffered a suspected stroke during proceedings.
The SFO is also prosecuting a group of former Barclays traders over Libor-related offences in a trial scheduled for February. It and has also begun a case against six individuals for alleged conspiracy to rig Euribor, the euro equivalent of Libor.
That trial is not scheduled to come to trial before 2017.
Two former Rabobank traders were convicted of Libor-rigging offences in the United States last November.
Reporting By Kirstin Ridley, editing by Sinead Cruise and Adrian Croft