This story originally appeared in sibling publication The National Law Journal.
Reports that UBS AG is close to reaching a deal with authorities investigating the alleged manipulation of global interest rates could be good news for private plaintiffs already pursuing litigation against UBS and other institutions, according to lawyers.
Under the terms of the deal as reported in media accounts December 14, the Swiss bank would pay approximately $1 billion in fines and sanctions, and a Japanese subsidiary would plead guilty to a criminal charge. The agreement, once official, would come approximately six months after Barclays Bank PLC agreed to pay $450 million to resolve civil charges of rate-rigging brought by U.S. and British authorities.
UBS, Barclays, and other banks have long faced accusations that they tried to manipulate interest rates used in financial instruments worldwide. As was the case with the Barclays agreement, a deal with UBS would give more fodder to plaintiffs involved in multi-district litigation over the alleged rate-rigging scheme in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said co-lead plaintiffs’ counsel Bill Carmody, a partner at Susman Godfrey.
“We benefit on the civil side of this by the work done by federal regulators in the various countries. They’re going in and spending the big monies and using all the resources that governments have,” Carmody said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
A UBS spokesperson could not be reached today for comment. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment. According to The New York Times, UBS is in talks with authorities in the United States, Great Britain and Switzerland.
Criminal sanctions could open the door to new litigation from UBS’ borrowers, said Arent Fox partner Les Jacobowitz. Given the public exposure UBS is now facing, he said, institutions under investigation may be more open now to settlements to avoid bad press.
The investigation into alleged manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, has been called one of the biggest financial scandals in recent history. LIBOR serves as the foundation for trillions of dollars of financial products around the world.
The fact that UBS could pay almost double what Barclays did is a sign that UBS was perhaps more deeply involved in the rate-rigging scheme, said Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University. The dollar amount of future fines and sanctions is “unlikely to go down, at least for banks that were dealing with the UBS traders,” he said.
UBS officials confirmed in 2011 that they were cooperating with the LIBOR investigation. Attorney Kevin LaCroix of liability management company RT ProExec said the news today about UBS may place more pressure on other financial institutions to come forward and cooperate, if they’re not already doing so.
If UBS has to “pay fines and penalties of the magnitude being publicized and accept a criminal plea for one of its operating units, that obviously has important implications for other financial institutions,” LaCroix said.
The LIBOR investigation dropped off the public radar for a little while after the Barclays announcement, but Carmody said today’s news about UBS was a sign that the investigation is far from over. “The more it goes on, it’s just going to get worse for these banks,” he said.