Friday 16 September 2011

'Rogue trader' Kweku Adoboli faces fraud charges dating back to 2008


tearful Kweku Adoboli, the alleged rogue trader at the centre of a $2bn (£1.3bn) loss at Swiss bank UBS, appeared before magistrates on Friday to be charged with fraud and false accounting dating back to 2008. A clerk at City of London magistrates court handed the 31-year-old Ghanaian a tissue as the 15-minute proceedings began, after which the one-time star trader was led away to remain in custody until a bail hearing on 22 September. Adoboli's charge sheet appeared to allege that he had taken steps to cover loss-making trades as long ago as 2008. A committal hearing was set for 28 October. The timescale of the allegations will raise questions about risk management procedures at the bank, put intense pressure on the chief executive, Oswald Grübel, and fuel calls from some Swiss politicians for the bank to exit its investment banking business, putting thousands of jobs at risk in the City. Many UBS bankers already fear for their year-end bonuses. Smiling at times, Adoboli spoke only to confirm his name, address and date of birth, while the Swiss bank refused to add anything to the statement it issued on Thursday when it revealed it had called in City of London police at 1am to investigate Adoboli after uncovering "unauthorised trading". British-educated Adoboli – whose passport spells his name as Kwaku – joined UBS in 2006 and was a member of the so-called delta one trading desk, where, among other things, he traded exchange traded funds (ETFs). These complex financial instruments, on which the regulators issued warnings earlier this year, are structured to mimic market movements. His registration with the Financial Services Authority was switched to "inactive" on Friday at the request of the firm – indicating that he is no longer performing that role. Two charges claim that Adoboli falsified records of ETFs between October 2008 and December 2009 and then January 2010 and September 2011. A third charge alleges that he committed fraud between January 2011 and September 2011 while senior trader in global synthetic equities. His lawyers at Kingsley Napley – the law firm that advised Nick Leeson, the rogue trader who broke Barings – did not issue a statement or enter pleas to the charges. His father, John, told Reuters from Tema, Ghana: "I want the world to have an open mind. He should not be sentenced before the trial begins." The former United Nations worker is hoping to fly to the UK this week and is applying for a visa. The City of London police, who arrested Adoboli at his luxury home on the edge of the City at 3.30am on Thursday, said their investigation was continuing, in "close collaboration" with the Financial Services Authority, the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. Adoboli's trading activity, by its nature, required him to perform frequent numbers of small trades. One of the last postings on his Facebook page – "need a miracle" – came at around the time the Swiss National Bank intervened to reduce the value of the Swiss franc, which has prompted speculation that this helped expose his losses. The bank, which employs 6,000 staff in London, will now have to pay for a detailed investigation being launched by the FSA and the Swiss regulator, Finma, into the control systems at UBS, the failures that permitted the losses to occur, and details of the unauthorised trading activity. The "comprehensive, independent investigation" will be carried out by one of the big four accountancy firms, although no timescale has been given for when it might be completed. The discovery of the "unauthorised trading" has come at a sensitive time for the City, coinciding as it does with the third anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and coming after calls from politicians in the UK and Switzerland for the break-up of high street banks to separate "casino" investment banking arms. "It shows that investment banking is a high-risk field and it's important that we clearly separate systemically important functions from the rest of the banking business," said Caspar Baader, of the Swiss People's party. Switzerland's Social Democratic party called for "consequences" such as a ban on "proprietary trading" and replacing "egomaniacal, arrogant and irresponsible managers". Even a year after the banking crisis of 2008, during which Swiss taxpayers contributed to a $60bn bailout of UBS, the nation's banking assets totalled SFr3.47tr – nearly seven times the country's gross domestic product. New laws requiring UBS and Credit Suisse to rein in risk and hoard capital to a higher level than required elsewhere in Europe have already been passed in the first chamber of the Swiss parliament and were debated this week in the upper house, known as the national council. Moves to hive off riskier investment banking and private client operations from those banking functions vital to the smooth operation of the Swiss economy also form part of the legislation, but would not be implemented immediately. Banking analysts believe UBS may now have to scale back its investment banking business and axe even more jobs on top of the 3,500 group-wide cuts announced last month in a bid to save £1.5bn – a similar amount to the losses the bank now fears it faces from the alleged "unauthorised trading". "We are making further cuts in our 2012 profit estimates, as we believe that UBS is set to announce a more streamlined investment banking business strategy in November, with certain business units being closed and additional jobs being lost. This is part of the bank's efforts to address the long-term structural issues within the financial services industry," said Christopher Wheeler, an analyst at Mediobanca. Ratings agencies warned of a downgrade of the bank's credit rating. Standard & Poor's placed the bank on its Creditwatch list, citing factors including the "setback to UBS's efforts to rebuild its reputation and demonstrate strengthened risk-management following its weak performance in 2007-2009", when it almost collapsed during the credit crunch.