Ex-HSBC currency trader Mark Johnson, who was unwittingly captured on an audio recording saying “I think we got away with it,” has just been convicted by a jury in New York of fraud for front-running a $3.5 billion transaction that netted his firm some $8 million in illicit profits. Per Bloomberg:
Former HSBC Holdings Plc currency trader Mark Johnson was found guilty of fraud for front-running a $3.5 billion client order, a victory for U.S. prosecutors as they seek to root out misconduct in global financial markets.
He was convicted on Monday after a month-long trial in Brooklyn, New York.
Johnson was the first person to be tried since the global currency-rigging scandal that resulted in global banks paying more the $10 billion in penalties. The charges stemmed from HSBC’s execution of a trading order from Cairn Energy Plc in 2011 to convert the proceeds of a unit sale from dollars into pounds.
“This sends a signal to traders and banks that this type of behavior is absolutely inappropriate and will be pursued by the government,” Michael Weinstein, a former Justice Department trial attorney, said. “That’s a big hammer over the banks — it may force them to monitor and self-regulate their people.”
For those who haven’t followed this particular story, Mark Johnson was arrested at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2016 before he could return to the U.K. following a nearly 3-year investigation into efforts on the part of several large investment banks to rig FX markets but Stuart Scott has remained free at his home in the London suburbs pending the outcome of the extradition proceedings. Per Bloomberg:
Mark Johnson, HSBC’s global head of foreign exchange cash trading in London, was taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday and is scheduled to appear before a judge in federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday morning, said the people, who asked not to be named because the case hasn’t been made public. He’s charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the people said.
According to Bloomberg, Johnson’s arrest comes more than a year after five global banks pleaded guilty to charges related to the rigging of currency benchmarks. HSBC, which wasn’t part of those criminal cases, in November 2014 agreed to pay $618 million in penalties to U.S. and British regulators to resolve currency manipulation allegations. HSBC, which still faces investigations by the Justice Department and other authorities for the conduct, has set aside $1.3 billion for possible settlements, according to an August filing.
Rob Sherman, an HSBC spokesman, and Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.
According to the original DOJ complaint, HSBC was selected by Cairn Energy Plc to execute a foreign exchange transaction – which was going to require converting approximately $3.5 billion in sales proceeds into British Pound Sterling – in October 2011. But, before executing that trade, he tipped off a bunch of HSBC traders who loaded up their proprietary accounts with Pounds just before the massive trade sent the currency higher.
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