Glad to see this kind of crackdown by federal regulators, even though it's five years after the fact. It's baffling that these people are so divorced from the human misery they caused. It's as if they're completely disconnected from their own country, and I wonder how they got this way:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. regulators claimed their first victory in a four-year old effort to crack down on oil market manipulation on Thursday, announcing a $14 million settlement with high-frequency trading firm Optiver.
In a ruling that came just two days after U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a renewed campaign against illegal oil trading schemes, the Amsterdam-based company agreed to disgorge $1 million in profits and pay a $13 million civil penalty over allegations it used a rapid-fire tool nicknamed "The Hammer" to influence U.S. oil prices in 2007.
It was the first case brought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in its 2008 effort to curb market malfeasance, launched as prices soared toward a record near $150 a barrel in the middle of that year.
The case alleged that traders in Optiver's Chicago office reaped a $1 million profit by engaging in a practice called "banging the close", in which the firm attempted to move U.S. oil prices by executing a large volume of deals during the final moments of trading.
While far from the agency's largest fine, the case was viewed as an important milestone in the CFTC's efforts to get more aggressive over market manipulation - a charge that has historically been difficult to prove, despite mounting political pressure to take rogue traders to task.
"The CFTC will not tolerate traders who try to gain an unlawful advantage by using sophisticated means to drive oil and gas futures prices in their favor," David Meister, the CFTC's enforcement chief, said in a statement.
[...] The CFTC case revealed emails and phone recordings showing efforts by traders at Optiver's Chicago branch to "move," "whack" and "bully" oil prices.
According to a CFTC background sheet, van Kempen told an Optiver trader on March 19, 2007: "You should milk it for right now because you never know how long it's going to last."
The CFTC complaint said Optiver and van Kempen made false statements to New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) compliance officials in an effort to conceal the manipulative scheme.
The defendants had attempted to manipulate NYMEX U.S. crude oil, gasoline and heating oil contracts on the 19 separate times during 11 days in March 2007, according to the complaint.
"Those who seek to manipulate oil or other commodity markets should know we aren't messing around," said CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton. "You manipulate, we are going after you."