On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that five major banks – Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and Citigroup – will be fined approximately $5.7 billion after pleading guilty to crimes involving the manipulation of global currencies and interest rates.
The DoJ noted that four of the banks – Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland – have been forced to plead guilty to antitrust violations in the foreign exchange market, after they allegedly worked together to enhance their profits by manipulating the $5-trillion-a-day foreign exchange market to $10 billion.
At a press conference on Wednesday morning, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that starting as early as 2007, currency traders at several multi-national banks formed a group they dubbed “the cartel.”
Lynch explained that almost every day for more than five years, traders in this “cartel” communicated through coded language in a private electronic chatroom to manipulate the market’s exchange rate between euros and dollars.
“They acted as partners, rather than competitors, in an effort to push the exchange rate in directions favorable to their banks, but detrimental to many others,” Lynch said. “The prices the market sets for those currencies influence virtually every sector of every economy in the world. Their actions inflated the bank’s profits, while harming countless consumers, investors and institutions around the globe.”
The New York Times noted that when one member of the “cartel” would “build a huge position in a currency and then unload it at a crucial moment, hoping to move prices,” other traders would agree to “stay out of each other’s way.”
Business Insider reported that this is an unprecedented settlement for the parent companies of so many major banks “to plead guilty to criminal charges in a coordinated action,” and that JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup are the “first major U.S. banks to plead guilty to criminal charges in decades.”