By James Salmon
A former trader at Royal Bank of Scotland has become the first UK banker to be arrested on suspicion of rigging the £3.5trillion a day foreign exchange market.
City of London police and the Serious Fraud Office arrested the unnamed man at an address in Billericay in Essex on Friday morning.
The SFO refused to give any more details, confirming only that an individual had been arrested in connection with one of its investigations. But sources confirmed that the individual worked at RBS and was involved in the trading of foreign current rates.
Six banks, including RBS and HSBC, were fined a total of £2.6billion by UK and US regulators last month for their part in the racket.
Bankers, who called themselves the ‘A-Team’, ‘Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Players’ colluded online by sharing confidential information about clients’ currency orders to boost their bonuses.
Experts believe this is just the first of dozens of arrests, with many traders facing jail for a scandal widely believed to be even bigger than the recent ‘Libor’ interest rate-rigging scam.
The Serious Fraud Office launched a criminal investigation into the sprawling ‘Forex’ market in July but until now has made no arrests, despite around 30 bank staff sacked or suspended.
David Buik, a veteran financial commentator from broker Panmure Gordon, described the foreign exchange scandal as the ‘saddest episode in my 52 years working in the City.’
He said: ‘I’d be amazed if there were not many more arrests.
‘The foreign exchange market is the biggest in the world so could make any wrongdoing related to Libor rates seem like a Vicarage tea party by comparison. Those found guilty of fraud should be sent to jail.’
Sources confirmed that the individual worked at RBS and was involved in the trading of foreign current rates.
The development emerges as RBS is this week expected to give an update on its internal investigation into the Forex market, and the punishment meted out to rogue employees.
It suspects that 50 former and current staff may have been involved – compared to just 21 involved in the Libor interest rate rigging conspiracy which also led to huge fines for banks, including RBS.
It will be expected to demonstate it has taken a hard-line, piling the pressure on the SFO to make further arrests.
When it was fined almost £400million last month, the state backed lender admitted that just six staff had been disciplined, including three suspended.
John Mann, a Labour member of the Treasury Select Committee said: ‘I’d expect to see more arrests. Those involved should be held to account. But I would also expect those arrested to reveal the senior managers who turned a blind eye.’
Some are likely to be current or former employees of Barclays. The high street giant faces a fine of more than £500million for manipulating foreign exchange markets, despite refusing to settle with regulators in October.
Its chief executive Antony Jenkins last week admitted that the £500million it had set aside to cover its bills would probably not be enough.
Pressure is growing on the Government and authorities to claim the scalp of a high profile banker. More than seven years since the run on Northern Rock, not a single senior banker has been jailed for their role in the financial crisis.
So far the Serious Fraud Office has arrested 13 employees for manipulating Libor interest rates used to set the cost of mortgages.
Just one has been charged after pleading guilty in October to conspiracy to defraud.
The names of the individual and those 12 others arrested have been protected by a court order.