RBS Official Told Hedge Fund About Libor Fixing, Lawyer Says

  • Property group suing RBS over interest-rate derivatives
  • One e-mail about Libor said `best not to forward this please'

A Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc executive told a client at Brevan Howard Asset Management as early as August 2007 that banks were setting Libor rates to support their own trading, according to evidence from a U.K. lawsuit alleging that RBS’s misconduct has yet to be fully exposed.

Property Alliance Group, which is suing RBS over losses from interest-rate derivatives pegged to the benchmark, cited the evidence as it asked a London judge for permission to add allegations of fraud Thursday.

The group’s lawyer Timothy Lord read out material disclosed by RBS that he said showed wrongdoing went beyond what was set out by regulators in 2013 when they fined the bank $612 million for hundreds of attempts to manipulate versions of the London interbank offered rate tied to the yen and Swiss franc.

According to a transcript read out by Lord, former RBS head of money markets Paul Walker told the Brevan Howard employee in August 2007 that a liquidity freeze meant there was no market on which to base Libor submissions across a range of currencies.

“People are just setting their Libor to suit, you know, what they have got on their book,” he said, according to Lord.

The benchmarks, which were supposed to represent banks’ borrowing costs, were linked to trillions of dollars of contracts worldwide, including mortgages, finance deals and derivatives, including the interest-rate swap held by PAG.

Openly Discussed

“The regulatory findings do not record the full extent of Libor manipulation by RBS,” Lord said. Distortion began in 2007 and “was openly discussed by RBS executives” including members of the board, he said.

RBS lawyer David Railton told the judge that while bank didn’t object to the lawsuit being amended, “the precise basis for the allegations is unclear.” He said PAG wants to add 10 individuals as defendants in the lawsuit, although they were not identified.

The Edinburgh-based bank said that none of the allegations raised by Lord were new.

“These communications were previously produced in the course of the various investigations,” RBS spokeswoman Linda Harper said. “RBS will continue to defend PAG’s claim and will respond to PAG’s allegations at the appropriate time.”

Attempts by financial institutions to manipulate interest-rate benchmarks have led to more than $9 billion in fines against a dozen companies. Now lenders are having to contend with a wave of lawsuits from clients who say the misconduct caused them to lose money.

If the bank was “aware that the benchmark was broken, then we say various consequences will follow,” Lord said.

Gold Medal

Lord said that evidence the bank disclosed in the lawsuit showed RBS had also manipulated sterling and U.S. dollar rates, which wasn’t identified by regulators.

He read a transcript of a conversation between Walker and then-RBS treasurer John Cummins, which he said concerned dollar Libor submissions. “I don’t want to be in the gold medal spot,” Cummins said, referring to the ranking of rates filed by the other panel banks. “I don’t mind being in the bronze medal spot.”

Walker responded: “I’m getting pressure to keep putting them up and up and up,” according to Lord.

“The Libor rate should be the Libor rate,” Lord said. “It should not have been where it would come in the medal position.”

Sterling Libor

Lord read out the transcript of an FCA interview with Brent Davies, a former RBS trader, who told the regulator that RBS rate setters would “take into account the position of close by colleagues on the swaps desk” for sterling Libor. The regulator “seems to have material that suggests there was pervasive misconduct in relation to sterling going on,” Lord said.

A person who answered Davies’s mobile phone said they would pass a message to him.

Another message cited by Lord apparently showed two RBS employees discussing pressure from the government to keep dollar Libor as low as possible.

Regulatory probes have revealed that banks submitted inaccurate Libor rates to help traders, as well as to give a false impression of financial strength as markets froze in 2008. The Bank of England has faced accusations that it could have acted earlier to stop rate-rigging years, and that it urged lenders to keep Libor submissions low to preserve stability.

Ex-RBS head of corporate Johnny Cameron sent an e-mail to other executives after meeting with the Bank of England in April 2008 that officials “wanted banks to play U.S. Libor very straight,” according to Lord.

The message was sent around by another RBS employee who said it was “Best not to forward this please. Just verbally update the troops please,” Lord said.

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