The Royal Bank of Scotland is the latest megabank to be implicated in the ongoing interest rate-rigging scandal, agreeing on February 6 to pay fines totaling $612 million.
The lion’s share of the penalty – $325 million – was imposed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, with another $150 million going to settle Justice Department wire fraud and price fixing charges and $137 million to British regulators.
Like UBS and Barclays before it, RBS was charged with making false submissions to the London Interbank Offered Rate, known as Libor, in order to benefit its derivatives and money market trading positions.
"Today’s order against RBS demonstrates yet another clear case of a bank falsely reporting and attempting to manipulate or successfully manipulating benchmark rates to increase trading profits," said CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler in a written statement. "Such false reporting of benchmark rates undermines the integrity of markets and shakes the public’s trust in our financial system."
From about mid 2006 until 2010, RBS allegedly made false submissions to the Libor, which is determined daily based on information from a select panel of banks that are supposed to provide an honest assessment of the costs of borrowing unsecured funds in the London interbank market.
According to the CFTC, RBS traders would ask their colleagues to make falsely high or low submissions, "whatever was needed to turn a profit."
"RBS violated this fundamental precept and undermined the integrity of LIBOR for Yen and Swiss Franc," states the CFTC order, which accuses the company of violating the Commodity Exchange Act. "The statement of an RBS trader at the time makes their motivation clear: ‘[I]ts [sic] just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.’"
The company, which was represented by Clifford Chance partner David Yeres, was contrite in its public statements. Chairman Philip Hampton acknowledged "serious shortcomings in our systems and controls and also in the integrity of a small group of our employees. This is a sad day for RBS, but also an important one in continuing to put right the mistakes of the past. We have to fix the culture in the banking industry."
Still, RBS stressed that only 21 of 137,000 employees were implicated, and that all have left the company or been disciplined, including claw backs of bonuses. Also, John Hourican, head of the markets and international banking division, agreed to step down although he was unaware of the wrongdoing.
When Barclays was hit with charges of Libor manipulation last summer, the scandal ultimately cost CEO Robert Diamond his job. The bank paid a total of $453 million to settle charges by regulators. At UBS, where wrongdoing was allegedly more widespread, the bank paid $1.5 billion in fines to U.S., Swiss and British regulators. RBS was criticized sharply by CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton for allegedly continuing to submit false information to the rate even after employees knew that regulators were investigating.
"It is amazing that RBS employees tried to fly above the law. They acted as if they were the masters of the universe and the rules of fair play just didn’t apply," Chilton said in a statement.
The Justice Department focused on RBS’s wholly owned Japanese subsidiary, RBS Securities Japan Ltd., which agreed to plead guilty to felony wire fraud and admit its role in manipulating the Japanese Yen Libor rate. (RBS owns a minority stake in ALM Media.)
Parent company RBS also admitted to fraud as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. DOJ filed a criminal information in the District of Connecticut for wire fraud and price fixing for rigging the Yen Libor with other banks.
"As we have done with Barclays and UBS, we are today holding RBS accountable for a stunning abuse of trust," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in a news release.
He warned there were still more cases to come. "Our investigation is far from finished," he said. "Our message is clear: no financial institution is above the law."
Contact Jenna Greene at email@example.com.