Tom Hayes, a former trader with UBS AG (UBS) and Citigroup (C), has been sentenced to 14 years in jail after becoming the first person to be convicted over the rigging of the global benchmark interest rate LIBOR.
Hayes, 35, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud on eight counts by a London court after a two-month trial, a rare success for the U.K. authorities, who have come under pressure for failing to prosecute financial crime effectively.
His sentence would almost certainly have been lighter had he not reversed an original guilty plea, a plea that Hayes has said was only offered in an attempt to avoid extradition to the U.S., where he faced sentences of up to 30 years. Fraud normally carries a 10-year maximum sentence under English law, but consecutive sentences (a rarity in Britain) are allowed when there are large sums involved.
U.K. regulators first started investigating signs that the market for LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) was being manipulated back in 2008. Since 2012, regulators in the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere have imposed some $9 billion in fines on seven banks who led a cartel that systematically abused the interests of their clients in order to maximise their own profits.
Until the crisis, LIBOR had occupied a pivotal place in the global financial system, acting as the reference interest rate for trillions of dollars in transactions every day. The scale of that market grew in parallel with the broader market for debt and related derivatives instruments that was driven by the credit boom in the U.S. and Europe before 2008. Since the scale of the market-rigging became evident, the U.K. and others have drafted new legislation explicitly banning rate-rigging, while the compilation and publication of LIBOR has been subjected to much tighter regulatory procedures.
The court heard that Hayes–nicknamed ‘Rain Man’ because of his mild symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome–had earned UBS over 200 million pounds ($310 million) in four years while orchestrating submissions to the yen LIBOR fixings.
“Mr Hayes’s desire was to earn and make as much money as he could,” The Daily Telegraph reported prosecutor Mukul Chawla as saying. “He was the ringmaster at the very centre, telling others around him what to do and in a number of cases rewarding them for their dishonest assistance.”
Hayes, by contrast, told the court that his superiors had been quite aware of his actions and that he had not thought he could be doing anything wrong.
He said he received no training, that LIBOR was at the time unregulated, his requests for rate levels fell within a “permissible” range and that he left a trail of emails and computer chats because he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.