(Bloomberg) -- A former JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker was convicted of conspiring with traders at other banks to rig bids and fix prices in currency markets -- a victory for prosecutors in their campaign against collusion in foreign exchange.
A federal jury in New York on Wednesday took less than four hours to find Akshay Aiyer guilty of a single count of conspiracy to violate antitrust laws, following a trial that lasted more than two weeks.
He’s the second person to be convicted in a crackdown on dubious practices used by currency traders and faces as long as a decade in prison and a $1 million fine when he is sentenced on April 3.
Prosecutors had relied on testimony from two alleged conspirators, former Citigroup trader Christopher Cummins and ex-Barclays banker Jason Katz, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Cummins and Katz testified that the traders plotted in chat rooms, on the phone and at social gatherings to rig trades while leading customers to believe that they were actually competing with each other.
Conviction a Reminder
“This conviction serves as a reminder of our commitment to hold individuals responsible for their involvement in complex financial schemes which violate the integrity of the global financial markets,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement. Aiyer and his lawyers declined to comment after the verdict.
The conviction shows that antitrust prosecutors can successfully pursue currency-market cases despite previous acquittals, said Philip A. Giordano, a partner with Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
The verdict also underscores the importance of the role that victims play in these types of trials, as the government called representatives of asset management firms who testified that they were harmed by the traders’ collusion, he said.
“That helps to put the other evidence, the evidence from the co-conspirators, in perspective,” Giordano said. “It shows that the alleged conduct did not occur in a vacuum. The conduct is less susceptible to interpretation when it is connected to a negative impact on a customer. It makes it easier for the jurors to accept the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts.”
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Defense lawyers argued that all three of the traders made their decisions independently. They argued that Cummins and Katz had been colluding with other foreign-exchange traders for years before they even met Aiyer and were simply trying to save themselves by implicating him to avoid prison.
Aiyer is a native of India who came to the U.S. in 2002 to attend college. He joined JPMorgan in 2006 and worked there until 2015, first as a foreign-exchange analyst and later as a trader.
The first person charged in the crackdown, Mark Johnson, a former global head of foreign exchange at HSBC Holdings Plc, was found guilty in 2017 of front-running a $3.5 billion client order. But a U.K. court refused to extradite Johnson’s underling, Stuart Scott, and three British traders accused of similar conduct were acquitted by a jury in New York last year. U.K. investigators dropped a criminal probe into individual traders, finding there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.
Banks around the world have paid more than $10 billion in penalties for misconduct in the currency markets since the crackdown began. Citigroup Inc., Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and JPMorgan Chase pleaded guilty in 2015 to rigging currency rates and agreed to pay about $2.5 billion to the Justice Department as part of an overall $5.8 billion settlement with multiple regulators.
The case is U.S. v. Aiyer, 18-cr-333, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
(Updates with sentencing date in third paragraph)
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