Ex-Barclays Trader Admits Conspiracy to Rig Currency Prices

  • Jason Katz pleads guilty to price-fixing charge in New York
  • Five banks slated to be sentenced Thursday in currency probe

Jason Katz, a former Barclays Plc currency trader, admitted conspiring to fix prices in the foreign-exchange market, the third individual to be charged and the first to plead guilty in a long-running U.S. criminal investigation into the rigging of currency rates.

Katz appeared in Manhattan federal court Wednesday, where he admitted to participating in a conspiracy with other bankers to manipulate emerging-market currency trades while working at three different financial institutions from 2007 to 2013. Separately, the Federal Reserve Board said it banned Katz from the banking industry.

Katz’s conviction comes one day before five banks are scheduled to be sentenced in connection with the Justice Department’s three-year investigation. The banks -- Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc -- pleaded guilty in May 2015 to charges that their traders conspired to manipulate trading in U.S. dollars and euros. UBS Group AG also pleaded guilty to a related charge.

Bloomberg previously reported that the currency-rigging investigation had expanded to additional chatrooms involving trading in emerging market currencies, including the Brazilian real, the Russian ruble and the South African rand.

Katz was released on a $150,000 bond to be secured by property in New York’s Delaware County. His travel is limited to New York, Connecticut and London until April 1 when he is to turn over his passport and remain in the U.S.

Trading History

Katz spent a year as director of emerging markets-foreign exchange trading at Barclays beginning in 2010, according to regulatory filings and his LinkedIn profile. He joined BNP Paribas in September 2011 as its director of emerging markets-foreign exchange trading, before leaving for Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. two years later, the documents show. Before joining Barclays, Katz spent more than nine years at Standard Bank, where he was head of foreign exchange, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Prosecutors say Katz was a dealer of central and eastern European, Middle Eastern and African currencies and conspired to manipulate prices through "non-bona fide trades," coordinating the placement of bids and offers, and agreeing on currency prices quoted to specific customers.

Katz has agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation. The conspiracy charge Katz admitted to has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, which may be increased based on the proceeds gained or the loss to investors.

“These conspirators engaged in blatant collusion and succeeded in manipulating exchange rates for multiple currencies to their advantage,” said Brent Snyder, a deputy assistant attorney general with the department’s antitrust division. “Conspiracies such as this undermine the integrity of our financial markets, and the Antitrust Division is committed to ensuring that they are pursued and punished.”

Currency Chats

Katz’s time at Barclays coincides with that of Chris Ashton, the former global head of spot trading at the London-based bank. Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Ashton and a group of other traders participated in an electronic chatroom called The Cartel where they conspired to rig currency prices. 

Ashton was permanently banned from U.S. banking by the U.S. Federal Reserve in August. It isn’t clear whether Katz had any interaction with Ashton or other members of The Cartel.

Those chatroom discussions formed the basis of guilty pleas by four of the banks, which are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Connecticut. Barclays, JPMorgan and Citigroup provided evidence of a potential new antitrust conspiracy in the currency spot market that prosecutors say involves different currencies than the ones at the center of their 2015 guilty pleas.

The case is U.S. v. Katz, 17-cr-00003, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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