The strange silence and an absence of information

 

There is a strange silence at the core of the Barclays Libor manipulation. A strange absence of information.

But this may be remedied on Wednesday if a committee of MPs gets better answers than Newsnight is getting about emails alleged to exist between a Bank of England boss and the boss of Barclays.

Barclays was found guilty of, and paid a fine for, two types of market manipulation.

First, that said to be organised by relatively junior staff, to boost the bank's profits (and their own bonuses). This involved day-to-day rigging of Barclays' submission to the mechanism that sets this key inter-bank interest rate.

But it is the second offence that is raising systemic questions.

This involved a decision by Barclays to manipulate the rate during the credit crunch of 2007-08, with the purpose of avoiding the impression that Barclays was in trouble.

As the US regulator found: "Certain members of management of Barclays, including senior managers in the treasury department and managers of the money markets desk, directed that the Barclays Dollar Libor submitters contribute rates that were nearer to the expected rates of other Contributor Panel banks rather than submitting the proper, higher Libors."

As Barclays struggled to avoid being forced to take bailout money from the UK government, on 29 October 2008: "A senior Bank of England official contacted a senior Barclays manager... As the substance of the conversation was passed to other Barclays employees, certain Barclays managers formed the understanding that they had been instructed by the Bank of England to lower Barclays' Libor submissions, and instructed the Barclays Dollar and Sterling Libor submitters to do so - even though that was not the understanding of the senior Barclays individual who had the call with the Bank of England official."

These senior people have now been named by the BBC's business editor Robert Peston: Paul Tucker at the Bank of England, and Bob Diamond at Barclays.

Thus, the official picture drawn by the FSA is that the Bank of England did not instruct Barclays to fiddle the rate, and that Bob Diamond "did not understand" that he had been so instructed.

And here is where the unfortunate silence begins. Why was the discussion between Tucker and Diamond not noted or recorded? And where does the trail of orders begin that led to Barclays lowering their submissions on 29 October?

Whistleblower

These are questions on which the future of Bob Diamond and the rest of Barclays board hangs.

Newsnight understands the Treasury Select Committee is examining claims that an email trail exists between Mr Tucker and Barclays' senior management.

A whistleblower has claimed that the FSA has seen emails from Mr Tucker to Mr Diamond and Barclays senior management; that these emails have been read out orally in FSA meetings, but that they were not included in the FSA's findings released last week.

When I asked the FSA if they had seen emails from Mr Tucker they said they could not add anything, or answer questions about anything not in the document, as a wider FSA investigation is ongoing.

When I asked the Bank of England whether they had supplied emails from Mr Tucker to the FSA as part of the inquiry they said said were "not aware of any emails".

When I asked Barclays if the emails existed, they said they "could not add to what is in the FSA report at this stage".

Paul Tucker's communication with Barclays senior management came after there'd been a BBA review into allegations of Libor manipulation, and after months of press comment.

Core to the FSA's case against Barclays is that, whatever it said to the Bank of England about its general concerns at the reliability of Libor, it never indicated that it, itself, was manipulating Libor.

The Bank of England told the Daily Mail: "It is nonsense to suggest the Bank of England was aware of any impropriety in the setting of Libor. If we had been aware of attempts to manipulate Libor, we would have treated them very seriously."

 
Paul Mason, Economics editor, Newsnight Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 79.

    #77 Alison

    wrong-doing at all times.

    They are both buyers and sellers into the market, they tried to raise the rate when they were sellers and lower it when buyers.

    They didn't do this as some kind of philanthropic gesture to save the UK taxpayer from picking up another broken bank, they did it for profit (past, present and future)

    And they aren't illiquid, they are insolvent.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 78.

    Is it not likely that only one figure could expect to be heard respectfully, by a senior banker, in the national interest, seeming either to ask for a major bank take-over without due diligence, or to have it appear that at least one of Britain's Big Four was not close to sinking? A moral debt may be owed, perhaps a knighthood as for one Francis Drake?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 77.

    Good journalism, but is it really SO bad to manipulate Libor downwards at a time of crisis? Reduced Libor = lower borrowing rates for all. And who would have wanted yet another British bank to be perceived as illiquid & forced to go cap in hand to taxpayers at that time? Technically wrong-doing, but maybe right at the time.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 76.

    FSA, BoE I really hope the electronic trail is found with you both having knowledge of what was going on. I would therefore suggest that if this is the case you are also culpable of fraud. Too big to fail has just come back to bite you in the ass.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 75.

    Good Banking Practice: Lesson Number 1

    When you have a telephone conversation with someone who apparently tells you to do something immoral and possibly illegal, do it without seeking clarification or challenging the advice.
    If you put this advice into practice you too could become the CEO of a major British bank and "be released" with a shed load of money and never have to work again.
    Alan

 

Comments 5 of 79

 

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