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Ex-Citigroup currency trader testifies greed helped rig system

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A former Citigroup currency trader told a jury that he plotted with rivals at other banks in chat rooms, on the phone and at social gatherings to rig currency trades while their customers were led to believe they were actually competing with each other.

[NEW YORK] A former Citigroup currency trader told a jury that he plotted with rivals at other banks in chat rooms, on the phone and at social gatherings to rig currency trades while their customers were led to believe they were actually competing with each other.

"The purpose was to try to make more money trading," Christopher Cummins testified Friday in Manhattan federal court. "I was supposed to be pricing on my own. I was supposed to be competing."

Cummins, 53, was one of the first traders to admit wrongdoing in a US criminal investigation of price-fixing in the currency markets. He's testifying for the government in the trial of former JPMorgan Chase & Co trader Akshay Aiyer, who's charged with taking part in the rigging of African, European and Middle Eastern currencies.

The charges stem from a mutiyear probe by the Justice Department's antitrust division. Banks have paid more than US$10 billion in penalties for currency-market abuse.

Joceyln Sher, Aiyer's lawyer, said on Thursday that the government's case is based on "highly flawed and seriously compromised witnesses" who are implicating Aiyer to win a break from prosecutors. What Aiyer did wasn't a crime, she argued.

Cummins worked for Citigroup from 1992 until he left in April 2014. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to fix prices in January 2017, a week after former Barclays trader Jason Katz, who is also slated to testify for prosecutors against Aiyer.

Aiyer, 36, is a native of India who came to the US in 2002 to attend college. He joined JPMorgan in 2006 and worked there until 2015, first as a foreign-exchange analyst and later as a trader. Indicted last year on a single count of conspiracy, he faces as long as 10 years in prison and a US$1 million fine if convicted.

Prosecutors have had mixed results in currency-rigging trials. Former HSBC Holdings trader Mark Johnson was convicted in 2017 of front-running a US$3.5 billion client order, but a federal jury in New York last year acquitted three British traders accused of similar conduct. UK investigators dropped a criminal probe of individual foreign exchange traders, finding there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute.

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