Barclays Executive Felt Bad for Firing FX Traders Amid Probe

  • Justin Bull testifies in dismissal case brought by Jack Murray
  • Murray suspended in 2012 amid global probe into rate rigging

A former Barclays Plc executive said he felt awkward and "uncomfortable" when having to suspend and eventually fire traders at the bank amid a probe into possible foreign-exchange manipulation.

Justin Bull, chief operating officer until April 2015, was at a London employment tribunal hearing for Jack Murray, a trader who was suspended in November 2013 and fired in mid-2015. Murray is alleging that he was unfairly dismissed following accusations of breach of confidentiality, disclosure of proprietary information and using offensive language. Any allegations of market manipulation were dropped against Murray, Bull said.

"I felt extremely uncomfortable about the whole episode," said Bull, who sat on the investment bank’s internal steering committee that examined its role in the currency scandal at the time. “I did feel a huge amount of awkwardness and sympathy" towards the traders who faced suspension. “I became really rather vocal that we should bring it all to a closure.”

Murray is the latest in a line of currency traders to sue their former employers after banks, embroiled in the foreign-exchange market rigging scandal, made widespread firings in the wake of $10 billion in fines.

Critical Confidentiality

"Client confidentiality is and has always been critical to trading on any market," Bull said in his witness statement. "When I was trading, I would never have disclosed to a trader from another firm who my clients were, their trading position or strategy or where they might have had ‘stop loss’ orders."

In a settlement last year, the U.S. Department of Justice said traders from several banks used online chat rooms with names like “The Cartel” to discuss positions before the rates were set and suppress competition in the market.

While Murray wasn’t ultimately fired over allegations of currency rigging, the employment tribunal hearing did look at the bank’s internal probe. Bull, who ran the disciplinary process for Murray and five other traders, said that conversations in multiparty chat rooms with traders at other banks would form the main focus of the investigation.

‘New Cartel’

"Welcome to the new cartel," Murray said in one July 2011 message shown to the court. "Make up for the temporary collapse of the cartel," he said in a second exchange.

Another Barclays’ trader, Chris Ashton, who was a member of “The Cartel” cited by the DOJ, has also sued the bank and his case will be heard next week down the hall from Murray’s.

Bull said Murray also potentially misused proprietary information by telling a trader from JPMorgan his trading position in August 2011.

Murray said he learned everything about currency trading from his bosses and denies he ever divulged non-public information.

The foreign-exchange scandal was one of several involving the rigging of key benchmarks that emerged following the financial crisis. Authorities in the U.S., the U.K. and Switzerland issued financial penalties to banks including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Barclays for their role in currency market manipulation.

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