Law360, New York (January 4, 2017, 8:31 PM EST) — A former currency trader for Barclays PLC on Wednesday became the first person to plead guilty in the long-running global investigation of price-fixing on the foreign currency exchange market, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Jason Katz, formerly of BNP Paribas PLC, appeared in Manhattan federal court and copped to his role in a conspiracy with other forex traders to suppress competition by fixing prices for currencies in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Prosecutors say Katz and others manipulated currency prices on electronic trading platforms by creating bogus trades, coordinating bids and offering agreed-upon prices for specific customers.
“These conspirators engaged in blatant collusion and succeeded in manipulating exchange rates for multiple currencies to their advantage,” Brent Snyder of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division said in a statement.
Separately, the Federal Reserve Board said Wednesday it has permanently barred Katz from the banking industry over his manipulation of forex prices. The Fed says Katz used online chat rooms to talk with competitors and agree on forex price quotes. Katz further revealed confidential customer information to his supposed rivals, among other wrongful practices, according to the central bank.
Katz is cooperating with prosecutors and the Fed, they said. According to court documents, he was ordered released Wednesday on a secured $150,000 bond.
An attorney for Katz could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
In May 2015, Barclays, Citigroup and three other of the world’s largest banks were hit with criminal charges and agreed to pay more than $5.6 billion to settle U.S. and U.K. claims that they manipulated the global forex markets.
Four of the banks, which also included JPMorgan and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, agreed to plead guilty to criminal antitrust violations over traders’ colluding to rig benchmark forex rates.
UBS avoided any DOJ criminal charges over forex rigging but was hit with a relatively smaller $342 million penalty from the Fed, after being credited for alerting authorities to the manipulation of the $5.3 trillion forex market.
The Justice Department has said traders inside the banks, who called themselves the Cartel, used private chat rooms and coded language to rig the spot market for exchanging euros and dollars.
Barclays, Citi, JPMorgan and RBS are due to be sentenced Thursday morning in Connecticut federal court.
Numerous banks have also been swept up in class litigation brought by an assortment of retirement funds and other investors.
The investors say the banks fixed prices by agreeing to widen the difference between the prices at which they buy and sell currency, manipulating benchmark rates and exchanging confidential customer information in an effort to trigger client stop-loss and limit orders.
Several banks have agreed to settle the litigation for a total of about $2 billion.
An attorney for the class action plaintiffs, David R. Scott of Scott & Scott LLP, told Law360 Katz’s guilty plea is further evidence of how serious and widespread the wrongdoing in the forex market was, and how it affected not just major currencies but also prices of currencies from Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“Today is a good day for victims of the banks’ wrongdoing, and we look forward to recouping our clients’ losses not just in the United States but in Europe as well,” Scott said.
Counsel information for the government was not immediately available.
Katz is represented by Robert Knuts of Sher Tremonte LLP.
The case is U.S. v. Katz, case number 17-cr-003, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
–Additional reporting by Evan Weinberger and Ed Beeson. Editing by Brian Baresch.