Former Global Head of HSBC’s Foreign Exchange Cash-Trading Found Guilty of Orchestrating Multimillion-Dollar Front-Running Scheme

Monday, October 23, 2017

The former head of global foreign exchange cash trading at HSBC Bank plc, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc (collectively HSBC), was found guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud an HSBC client through a multimillion-dollar scheme commonly referred to as “front running.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, Inspector General Jay N. Lerner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Mark Johnson, 51, a United Kingdom citizen with residences both in the U.K. and the United States, was found guilty after a four-week jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and eight counts of wire fraud.  Sentencing date has not been scheduled.  U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York presided over the trial.  Johnson was arrested on a criminal complaint in July 2016 and indicted in August 2016.

“This verdict makes clear that the defendant corruptly manipulated the foreign exchange market for the benefit of his bank and his bonus pool, to the detriment of the bank’s client,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco.  “This case demonstrates the Criminal Division’s commitment to protecting the financial system from harm, and holding corporate executives, including at the world’s largest and most sophisticated financial institutions, responsible for their crimes.”

“The jury found that former HSBC banker Mark Johnson exploited confidential information provided by a client of the bank to execute trades that were intended to generate millions of dollars in profits for him and the bank at the expense of their client,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde.  “This Office, together with its law enforcement partners, will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who would so abuse their client relationships and, more generally, undermine public confidence in the operation of the financial markets by engaging in fraudulent schemes.”

“This case involved a complex fraud scheme to ‘front run’ a foreign exchange transaction in order to generate millions of dollars in illicit profits for HSBC, which also indirectly benefited individual traders,” said Inspector General Lerner. “Such cases are challenging, but important, to bring against bank insiders who misuse their positions and undermine the integrity of a major international financial institution.”

“Mark Johnson misused confidential information to manipulate currency prices and defrauded a client out of more than $7 million,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale.  “The American people need to be assured that we are working vigorously to ensure integrity is upheld in financial services industries.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who engage in illegal business practices.”

According to the evidence presented at trial, in November and December 2011, Johnson cheated an HSBC client out of millions of dollars by misusing information provided to him by a client that hired HSBC to execute a foreign exchange transaction related to a planned sale of one of the client’s foreign subsidiaries.  HSBC was selected to execute the foreign exchange transaction – which was going to require converting approximately $3.5 billion in sales proceeds into British Pound Sterling – in October 2011.  HSBC’s agreement with the client required the bank to keep the details of the client’s planned transaction confidential.  Instead, Johnson misused confidential information he received about the client’s transaction to cheat the client out of millions of dollars, the evidence showed.

Shortly before the transaction, which occurred in December 2011, Johnson and other traders acting under his direction purchased Pound Sterling for their own benefit in their HSBC “proprietary” accounts.  Johnson then caused the $3.5 billion foreign exchange transaction to be executed in a manner that was designed to “ramp,” or drive up, the price of the Pound Sterling, benefiting their proprietary positions and HSBC at the expense of their client.

As part of their scheme, Johnson and his co-conspirators made misrepresentations to the client about the transaction that concealed the self-serving nature of their actions.  In total, Johnson and the traders he supervised generated HSBC profits of roughly $7.5 million from the execution of the FX  transaction for the victim company.

The investigation was conducted by the FDIC’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant support.  Assistant Chiefs Carol Sipperly and Brian Young and Trial Attorney Blake Goebel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Elbert of the Eastern District of New York’s Business and Securities Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section plays a pivotal role in the Department of Justice’s fight against white collar crime around the country, focusing on cases of national significance and international scope.  Fraud Section prosecutors have vast experience in investigating and prosecuting securities and financial fraud, health care fraud and foreign corruption.  The Section is routinely the national leader in large, sophisticated white collar investigations and prosecutions, frequently in partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and in coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies.  Learn more about the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section at:

CCC’s: UK’s Competition and Market Authority: [Real] Estate Agents Cartel Case Study

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I thought this might be of interest to readers and/or to pass on to clients.  The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) just published a case study of their investigation of a real estate against cartel in the UK (here).   Below are the lessons learned section of the study:

What are the lessons?

  • Be careful when talking business with your competitors – make sure you don’t agree not to compete with each other.

  • Be especially wary of any conversations about pricing, or about a shared approach to pricing. Each business must set and decide its prices independently.

  • Competition law applies to small businesses as well as large ones. The estate agents in this case were small local or regional businesses.

  • The consequences of breaking competition law can be severe; fines can be as much as 10% of a business’ global turnover and a director can be banned from being a director of a company, or being involved in the promotion, formation or management of one, for up to 15 years. In the most serious cases, individuals can go to prison for up to 5 years. [In the United States the maximum prison sentence is 10 years.]

  • Competition law applies to all industries and the CMA will take action against those breaking the law.

  • The Somerset estate agents’ cartel is the second recent enforcement case the CMA has taken in the property sector. The CMA remains committed to tackling illegal anti-competitive conduct in the sector.

You can subscribe to the CMS for email updates (here).

Thanks for reading.

Three Former Traders for Major Banks Arraigned in Foreign Currency Exchange Antitrust Conspiracy

Monday, July 17, 2017

Three United Kingdom nationals and former traders of major banks voluntarily surrendered to the FBI and were arraigned on a charge arising from their alleged roles in a conspiracy to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange (FX) spot market, the Justice Department announced today.

A one-count indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on January 10, 2017, charges Richard Usher (former Head of G11 FX Trading-UK at an affiliate of The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, as well as former Managing Director at an affiliate of JPMorgan Chase & Co.), Rohan Ramchandani (former Managing Director and head of G10 FX spot trading at an affiliate of Citicorp) and Christopher Ashton (former Head of Spot FX at an affiliate of Barclays PLC) with conspiring to fix prices and rig bids for U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the FX spot market.

The charge in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

According to the indictment, from at least December 2007 through at least January 2013, Usher, Ramchandani and Ashton (along with unnamed co-conspirators) conspired to fix prices and rig bids for the euro – U.S. dollar currency pair. Called “the Cartel” or “the Mafia,” this group of traders carried out their conspiracy by participating in telephone calls and near-daily conversations in a private electronic chat room. Their anticompetitive behavior included colluding around the time of certain benchmark rates known as fixes, such as by coordinating their bidding/offering and trading to manipulate the price of the currency pair by the time of the fix or otherwise profit as a result of the fix price. The conspirators also coordinated their trading activities outside of fix times, such as by refraining from entering bids/offers or trading at certain times as a means of stabilizing or controlling price.

The charge in the indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This prosecution is being handled by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office and the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Anyone with information concerning price fixing or other anticompetitive conduct in the FX market should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at (888) 647-3258, visit or call the FBI tip line at (415) 553-7400.