Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Ex-Barclays COO Again Expresses Unease With Trader Suspensions

  • Justin Bull testifies in dismissal case brought by Mark Clark
  • Clark suspended in 2013 amid global probe into rate rigging

A former Barclays Plc executive Justin Bull said he was "uneasy" suspending traders accused of foreign-exchange manipulation in an internal probe, the second time he’s expressed sympathy for former employees caught up in the allegations.

Bull, the bank’s chief operating officer until April 2015, was giving evidence at a London employment tribunal against Mark Clark, the third Barclays currency trader suspended amid regulatory probes into potential currency manipulation.

"I was quite uneasy about the process because it was not a decision I was part of," Bull said Tuesday of his meeting with Clark, who was suspended by the lender in 2013.

Bull was given the task of overseeing Clark’s disciplinary process that alleged the trader shared confidential information with competing banks, that he potentially tried to fix certain FX spot rates and "engaged in other behavior potentially prejudicial" to the bank’s reputation, according to Bull’s witness statement.

Clark follows colleagues Chris Ashton and Jack Murray in suing the bank after the fallout of the worldwide probe. 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.

Awkwardness, Sympathy

During a July hearing into Murray’s suspension, Bull said he felt “a huge amount of awkwardness and sympathy" towards the traders who faced bans.

Bull said that although at the time he thought it was going to be difficult to prove Clark had been involved in any alleged manipulation, there were over 40 online chats that he thought breached bank policy.

"It should’ve been obvious to any employee that offensive or explicit language and regular references to participation in a ’cartel’ with traders from other banks were inappropriate," Bull said in his witness statement. 

‘Significant Damage’

Even if they were "in jest, we considered that discussing 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 have at least have suggested that the members of the particular chat room had been colluding," Bull said.

Banks fired dozens of traders in the aftermath of regulatory probes into foreign-exchange markets, which have led to fines of at least $10 billion. Traders have met mixed results at the tribunal.

Clark refused to answer questions at a disciplinary hearing other than providing a written statement, a move that Bull said he was "disappointed" with. His statement was "nonsense," Bull said. "I didn’t think I agreed with Mr. Clark’s view of the world.”

Some traders have won claims of unfair dismissal, but failed to get support for their allegations that they were penalized for reporting improper conduct, which would have allowed them to seek recoveries beyond an approximate 80,000-pound ($103,900) cap.

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 fined banks including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan and Barclays for their role in currency-market manipulation.

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