The Federal Reserve Board has announced that it will seek a $1.2 million fine and a permanent ban on employment in the banking industry in an enforcement action against a foreign exchange trader who is alleged to have manipulated FX pricing benchmarks.
Christopher Ashton, a former FX trader at Barclays PLC, is alleged to have used electronic chat rooms to coordinate FX trading, facilitate manipulation of FX pricing benchmarks, disclose confidential customer information to traders at other organizations, and engage in other unsafe and unsound practices.
Ashton, previously global head of the FX spot business at Barclays in London, was accused of using electronic chat rooms to manipulate currency pricing benchmarks and disclose confidential information about customers to traders at other firms.
Ashton is the second former trader penalized by the agency. In July, the Fed also banned former UBS trader Matthew Gardiner from the banking industry for life.
Both traders were associated with ‘The Cartel’, the name given to a chat room used by senior traders at banks including Barclays, JPMorgan and UBS to share information and agree on ways to try to move currency benchmarks.
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According to the Fed’s enforcement notice: “Ashton used the electronic chat rooms on a nearly daily basis to communicate with competitors. Ashton and the other FX traders shared confidential and commercially sensitive information belonging to their banks and their banks’ clients in order to obtain an unfair competitive advantage over other market participants and their own clients.”
In addition, Ashton also created a chat room called ‘Sterling Lads’ for discussing trading in the British pound, and alleged efforts at rate manipulation there.
Ashton’s bonus allegedly jumped to $948,300 after he joined the live electronic discussions, from $498,000 the previous year, illustrating how his involvement helped boost his earnings, according to the Fed.
The trader has sued Barclays, saying he was fired unfairly and made a scapegoat after he blew the whistle on improper conduct in electronic chat rooms in 2012, a year before news of the scandal broke. The bank has said Ashton intentionally ignored its code of conduct by using offensive language and sharing confidential information.
The enforcement proceedings against Ashton follow the Board’s May 2015 enforcement actions against Barclays for unsafe and unsound practices related to their compliance and control failures concerning practices in the FX markets. The Board required Barclays to pay $342 million in penalties for control deficiencies related to FX trading as part of its increasingly aggressive stance against misconduct.