The Justice Department has formally unveiled its $1.5 billion settlement with the Swiss banking giant UBS for the company’s role in the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, which provides the basis for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. The rigging of Libor meant millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said UBS had played a key part in the reckless attempt to manipulate rates for profit.
Lanny Breuer: “The bank’s conduct was simply astonishing. Hundreds of trillions of dollars in mortgages, student loans, credit card debt, financial derivatives and other financial products worldwide are tied to Libor, which serves as the premier benchmark for short-term interest rates. In short, the global marketplace depends upon all of us relying on an accurate Libor. Yet UBS, like Barclays before it, sought repeatedly to fix Libor for its own ends, in this case so UBS traders could maximize profit on their trading positions and so that the bank would not appear to be vulnerable to the public during the financial crisis.”
According to transcripts released by prosecutors, UBS traders openly bragged about their prowess at rate manipulation and the financial benefits it brought. In one online chat in 2009, a key ringleader in the case was told: “Think of me when [you’re] on [your] yacht in Monaco.” The $1.5 billion fine is more than triple the fine paid by the first bank ensnared in the Libor case, Barclays. In paying it, UBS avoids criminal prosecution as well as potentially jeopardizing its parent company’s charter.