Barclays ‘Cartel’ Trader’s Incriminating Chats Were Bravado

  • Ashton accusing bank of unfairly firing him after his warnings
  • Jokes, cartel references part of trading floor banter, he says

Former Barclays trader Chris Ashton told his supervisors that comments he made in electronic chat groups that led to his firing were "pure bravado,” the executive who chaired his disciplinary hearing told a London court Wednesday.

Recounting an April 2015 hearing, Justin Bull, the bank’s former chief operating officer, said he showed Ashton transcripts of chats that included discussions about "using inside information" to make money, a joke about his best friend’s wife and references to participating in a "cartel.” Ashton dismissed his comments as "silly" and "bravado,” Bull said in a statement submitted to the court as part of Ashton’s lawsuit against the bank.

Barclays and other banks have fired dozens of traders in the aftermath of regulatory probes into foreign-exchange markets, which have led to fines of at least $10 billion. Ashton is accusing Barclays of unfairly firing him after he warned his bosses in 2012 about interbank electronic chats and the lack of guidance as to what constituted acceptable "market color" that could be shared with rival traders.

"We are well aware that trading floors can, on occasion, be boisterous," Bull said in his statement. "However, we considered there was a fundamental difference between jokes shared between colleagues on a trading floor and using an electronic communication system to send inappropriate and offensive messages to external third parties."

Scapegoat Lawsuits

Ashton is the most high profile of more than half a dozen traders and sales people to sue their former employers in recent months, claiming they were made scapegoats by banks as they rushed to appease regulators. They have had mixed success, often winning rulings on technicalities because banks didn’t follow proper employment law, but failing to get substantial compensation.

Ashton was a member of "The Cartel" -- the name given to a chat room used by senior traders at banks including Barclays, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and UBS Group AG to share information and agree on ways to try to move currency benchmarks including the so-called 4 p.m. fix.

Ashton is scheduled to testify July 26. 

"Even if it was a joke, I considered that a trader from Barclays belonging to a group calling itself a ’cartel’ could cause significant reputational damage if it were made public, as it could at least have suggested that the members of the particular chat room had been colluding," Bull said.

Co-Workers

It is the second time Bull has testified at an employment lawsuit this month. He appeared in the neighboring courtroom July 6, where Ashton’s former desk mate Jack Murray has been giving evidence as part of his own unfair dismissal lawsuit against the bank.

Murray seemed near tears Tuesday as he denied he intentionally flouted the bank’s code of conduct by using offensive language and sharing confidential information.

"I was following those around me," he said. "I never at any point thought I was doing anything wrong."

Murray said in his witness statement that his suspension placed him under so much stress his relationship collapsed and he contemplated taking his life.

"The outcome of this process has ended my career in finance,” he said. "Unlike the other traders dismissed by Barclays I am the only one in my twenties, the only trader who wasn’t a director or higher and the only trader to have suffered punishment in the form of a pay cut prior to any disciplinary action. Being implicated and punished unfairly has cut short that career and it is exceptionally difficult to quantify the financial losses that I have incurred due to an unfulfilled career as a trader."

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