You are here

Ex-HSBC FX trader is waiting for DOJ in leafy London suburb

39144722 - 21_07_2016 - HSBC-ARREST_.jpg
On a warm evening last month, federal agents swooped into New York's Kennedy airport to arrest Mark Johnson, HSBC Holdings Plc's global head of foreign exchange cash trading, as part of an investigation of a front-running scheme.

[LONDON] On a warm evening last month, federal agents swooped into New York's Kennedy airport to arrest Mark Johnson, HSBC Holdings Plc's global head of foreign exchange cash trading, as part of an investigation of a front-running scheme.

While Mr Johnson was nabbed before he could fly back to London, US prosecutors don't seem to be in any hurry to detain the other trader charged in the case.

Stuart Scott, the bank's former head of currency trading in Europe, is waiting on the US Justice Department in his multimillion-pound home in a leafy suburb outside of the UK capital.

The men, both British citizens, are accused of using insider knowledge to front-run a US$3.5 billion currency deal carried out in 2011 that made the bank US$8 million in profits. The arrest was considered a coup for the DOJ, which has struggled to build cases against individuals during the investigations of global banks.

There could be many reasons for the delays in the US seeking to extradite the 43-year-old Mr Scott, ranging from bureaucratic hurdles to the summer holidays. But lawyers say that defense counsel can make use of a holding period like this by talking to prosecutors.

"The government is likely interested in cooperation from the defendants to identify other rogue traders," said Adam Kaufmann, a lawyer at Lewis Baach in New York and a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

The government "may well be pursuing a negotiated surrender and cooperation," said Mr Kaufmann, who isn't involved in the case.

It is also not particularly unusual for bureaucratic delays to slow down arrests in overseas cases, said Thomas Garner, a London extradition lawyer. One month isn't out of the ordinary, he said.

"Things can happen very quickly sometimes, but in a case like this I would not be surprised by the timeline," Mr Garner said.

"It's a complicated case and an extradition request, if it has been made, may still be filtering through the system."

Mr Scott lives in a seven-bedroom home, estimated to be worth £2.5 million (S$4.40 million) by property website Zoopla, in the affluent village of Radlett 20 miles north of central London. A woman who answered the door at the house said they were "not interested" in speaking when visited by Bloomberg for the second time this month.

One woman who lives on the same street said she was shocked someone she described as a nice family-man could be accused of a crime and that she'd recently seen Mr Scott walking his two dogs. If Mr Scott's neighbours are talking, most law-enforcement officials aren't.

Representatives for half a dozen law-enforcement agencies, including police and prosecutors in London, either declined to comment or said they had no record of an arrest or extradition request from the US.

The UK Home Office said it couldn't confirm or deny whether the US had sought assistance until after an arrest had been made.

Mr Scott's lawyers declined to comment beyond reiterating their client denied the allegations. US prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, declined to comment.

The charges are the first in a global probe of the foreign-exchange market that started three years ago over allegations traders were manipulating key currency benchmarks to boost profits.

UK and US authorities have levied about US$10 billion in fines against seven banks over the behavior and more than 30 traders were suspended or fired.

Mr Scott left HSBC shortly after the bank agreed to pay US$618 million to settle civil probes in the US & UK into currency manipulation.

The transaction in question involved Cairn Energy Plc, which was selling a stake in an Indian subsidiary to Vedanta Resources Plc, people with knowledge of the transaction said last month.

Mr Johnson and Mr Scott began buying pounds in the days before the transaction, anticipating that they would cause the price of pounds to spike - a practice known as "ramping" - then execute the transaction, making the pounds they'd bought earlier more valuable, according to the complaint.

The UK Serious Fraud Office dropped its own criminal investigation into currency-rigging in March citing insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. Switzerland's financial regulator banned six former UBS Group AG employees from working in the industry for as long as five years in December.

Extradition In cases of severe financial crime the US tends to move fast on arrests, although the extradition process can be beset by delays. Navinder Singh Sarao, the British trader accused of helping to cause the 2010 flash crash, was arrested at his London home in April 2015 and was brought before a London judge the next day.

After four months languishing in a high-security London prison, he was released on bail while he fights extradition. Sixteen months later, he's still in the UK.

Agents moved quickly to arrest Mr Johnson, who works in London and New York, at the airport to avoid an extradition fight, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

This could mean the Justice Department wasn't as far along in the execution of its warrant for Mr Scott as it might have planned. The warrants were requested in a New York court on July 19, according to the complaint. The US is seeking Mr Scott's extradition, according to people involved in the case.

While American prosecutors only need show that the alleged misconduct would be a crime in both places to win a request for an extradition, it still could be a long time before Mr Scott steps on US soil to face the charges.

"There would likely be an appeal to the High Court, and in some cases a further appeal to the Supreme Court," said Richard Egan of Tuckers Solicitors, who represents Mr Sarao.

"The timescale can stretch out to well over a year."