JPMorgan paying $920M in London Whale case

WASHINGTON (AP) — JPMorgan Chase & Co. will pay $920 million and has admitted that it failed to watch over trading that led to a $6 billion loss and renewed worries about serious risk-taking by major banks.

Regulators in the U.S. and U.K said Thursday that the largest U.S. bank’s weak oversight of its London operation allowed traders there to assign inflated values to transactions and cover up huge losses as they ballooned. Two of the traders are facing criminal charges of falsifying records to hide the losses.

The combined amount JPMorgan is paying three U.S. regulators and the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority adds up to one of the largest fines ever levied against a financial institution.

The Securities and Exchange Commission fined the bank $200 million and required a rare admission of wrongdoing. The Federal Reserve Board imposed a $200 million penalty, while the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency set a $300 million fine. The British regulator fined the company $220 million.

The Justice Department is still investigating the bank for possible criminal violations.

New York-based JPMorgan called the settlements “a major step” in its efforts to put its legal problems behind it. The bank said it cooperated fully with all of the agencies’ investigations and continues to cooperate with the Justice Department in its criminal prosecution of the two former traders.

“We have accepted responsibility and acknowledged our mistakes from the start, and we have learned from them and worked to fix them,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement. “We will continue to strive towards being considered the best bank — across all measures — not only by our shareholders and customers, but also by our regulators.”

The trading loss that surfaced in April 2012 shook the financial world and damaged the bank’s reputation. JPMorgan was one of the few financial institutions to come through the 2008 financial crisis without suffering major losses.

The fallout even ensnared Dimon, who initially dismissed reports of the losses as a “tempest in a teapot” but later admitted to Congress that the bank failed in its oversight. He also took a multi-million-dollar pay cut.

The settlement comes just days after the five-year anniversary of the crisis. The huge loss at JPMorgan raised concern about continued risk-taking by Wall Street banks and questions of whether the financial industry had learned the lessons of the meltdown.

Three employees in the London office were fired — two senior managers and a trader. The episode also led to the resignation of Ina Drew, the former chief investment officer overseeing JPMorgan’s trading strategy.

Federal prosecutors in New York filed criminal charges last month against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout. Martin-Artajo supervised the bank’s trading strategy in London, and Grout, his subordinate, was in charge of recording the value of the investments each day. They were charged with conspiracy to falsify books and records, commit wire fraud and falsify filings to the SEC. They also were charged separately in an SEC civil complaint.

Both traders, through their lawyers, have denied any wrongdoing.

Their colleague Bruno Iksil, a trader known as the “London Whale” for the outsize bets he made that could roil markets, had his name associated with the embarrassing loss. No charges were laid against him. Prosecutors say he tried to raise questions about how his colleagues were recording the trades.

As part of the settlement, the SEC required JPMorgan acknowledge that it violated securities laws in failing to keep watch over the traders. That’s a first for a major company since newly appointed SEC Chairman Mary Jo White insisted the agency change a longstanding practice. The SEC previously allowed most companies and individuals to agree to deals without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

The SEC said its $200 million penalty is one of the largest in the agency’s history. The money will go to a fund to compensate investors who were harmed by the bank’s inaccurate financial reports concerning the trading loss, the SEC said.

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