Mark Johnson, a senior foreign exchange (FX) executive in HSBC’s London office, was arrested yesterday following prior established links with a FX market fixing scandal – immediately after the arrest, HSBC launched its own investigation into Johnson’s trades, relying on a former probe into the company’s own FX trades back in 2013.
Johnson’s arrest represents the first individual responsible for London market fixing to be charged in the US. He was arrested on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, allegations that if proven could result in a stiff penalty, and possible jail time. HSBC is hardly the only lender to be employing individuals under investigation – as such a number of other senior executives will no doubt be watching the fallout of Johnson’s verdict.
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The original criminal complaint filed in a federal court in Brooklyn looked to peg Johnson’s involvement in a scheme to front-run a $3.5 billion transaction by one of the bank’s clients. HSBC executive Stuart Scott has also since been charged with wire fraud conspiracy.
For its part, HSBC has been completely cooperative with the US’ Department of Justice (DoJ), while authorities in the UK have been working closely with the US regulatory authority. Many of the world’s largest banks are still reeling from sizeable fines from regulators, totaling upwards of $10 billion in 2014 and 2015 after a global FX manipulation scandal.
The timing of the allegations and potential PR blow to HSBC could not have been worse, as lenders in the UK are currently facing a number of different headwinds, such as waning profit margins and declining revenues. To date, banks such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and Standard Chartered, among others, have all been scaling back their work forces.