Matt Taibbi Tells A Tale Of Staggering International Bank Fraud

Just when you think bank fraud can't get any worse, they surprise you.

Here's Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi with a financial fraud story that involves the international banking system. Regulators on multiple continents are investigating the possibility that four of more banks were involved in widespread, Libor-style currency manipulation that went on for years:

Here at home, virtually simultaneous to the Rabobank settlement, Fannie Mae filed a suit against nine banks – including Barclays Plc (BARC), UBS AG (UBSN), Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG, Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan – for manipulating Libor, claiming that the mortgage-financing behemoth lost over $800 million due to manipulation of the benchmark rate by the banks.

There's no way to do a slap on the wrist in these cases. If they're guilty, they're done.

And virtually simultaneous to that, JP Morgan Chase disclosed that it is currently the target of no fewer than eight federal investigations, for activities ranging from possible bribery of foreign officials in Asia to allegations of improper mortgage-bond sales to . . . the Libor mess.

"The scope and breadth of risky practices at JPMorgan are mind-boggling," Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve bank examiner, told Bloomberg.

The point of all of this is that any thought that the potential Chase settlement might begin a period of regulatory healing for it and other Wall Street banks appears to be wildly mistaken. If anything, the scope of potential liability for all the major banks, particularly in these market-rigging furors, appears to be growing in all directions.

A half-year ago, it looked like the chief villains in the Libor mess at least were going to get away with writing relatively small checks. Back in March, a major private class-action suit filed by a gaggle of plaintiffs against the banks for Libor manipulation was tossed by a federal judge here in the southern District of New York on the seemingly preposterous grounds that a bunch of banks getting together to monkey with the value of world interest rates in this biggest-in-history financial collusion case was somehow now an antitrust issue.

The banks in that case humorously implied that the victims might have done better to sue for fraud instead of manipulation ("The plaintiffs, I believe, are confusing a claim of being perhaps deceived," one bank lawyer put it, "with a claim for harm to competition"), and the judge seemed to agree.

Moreover, when the plaintiffs' lawyers tried to make a point about the seemingly key fact that a series of governments had already concluded settlements with the banks for manipulating Libor, the judge – the Hon. Naomi Rice Buchwald – mocked the plaintiffs' lawyers for trying to ride to civil victory on a wave of government settlements:

Wait a second. Your job here, as plaintiffs' counsel, looking for whopping legal fees, is not to piggyback on the government. Indeed, the reason that there are statutes that provide plaintiffs' counsel with attorney's fees is a recognition that the government has limited resources.

The banks must have thought they'd hit the lottery, with this potentially deadly Libor suit suddenly stopped dead in its tracks by a grumpy federal judge with an apparent distaste for plaintiff lawyers who collect "whopping" legal fees. So the victims tried to take a different tack, appealing to a federal panel in an attempt to allow them to file their suits against the banks on a state-by-state level.

But then, in a seemingly fatal blow to the private claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled in favor of the banks, sending the case right back into the courtroom of the same judge who'd dumped on the plaintiffs' lawyers and their "whopping fees."

That was just a month ago, at the beginning of October, and back then it seemed like the banks might somehow escape the Libor mess with their necks intact.

Now, a month later, yet another bank has been forced to cough up a billion dollars for Libor manipulation, Fannie Mae has filed a major suit on the same grounds, and the Guardian Care Homes case is not only alive but looking like a threat to cancel billions of dollars' worth of Libor-related contracts. Not only that, many of those same banks are being sucked into what potentially is an even uglier scandal involving currency manipulation.

One gets the feeling that governments in all the major Western democracies would like to sweep these manipulation scandals under the rug. The only problem is that the scale of the misdeeds in these various markets is so enormous that even the most half-assed attempt at regulation will cause a million-car pileup.There's simply no way to do a damage calculation that won't wipe out the entire finance sector when you're talking about pervasive, ongoing manipulation of $5-trillion-a-day markets. That's the problem – there's no way to do a slap on the wrist in these cases. If they're guilty, they're done.

I'm sure the feds will find some other way to get the banks off the hook. Stay tuned!

About Susie Madrak

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