Antitrust Law Daily Jury convicts former currency trader in ongoing FX probe
Thursday, November 21, 2019

Jury convicts former currency trader in ongoing FX probe

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

Sentencing of former JPMorgan Chase trader set for April 2020. Investigation continues.

Akshay Aiyer, a former currency trader at JPMorgan Chase & Co., has been convicted of conspiring to fix prices for emerging market currencies in the global foreign currency exchange (FX) market. The Department of Justice Antitrust Division announced on November 20 that a jury in the federal district court in New York City convicted Aiyer of conspiring to fix prices and rig bids in Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African (CEEMEA) currencies, which were generally traded against the U.S. dollar and the euro, from at least October 2010 through at least January 2013 (U.S. v. Aiyer, Case 1:18-cr-00333-JGK).

Aiyer was indicted in May 2018. The one-count indictment identified Jason Katz and Christopher Cummins as co-conspirators of Aiyer in the CEEMEA market. Katz worked for BNP Paribas USA and Barclays PLC. Cummins was a trader at Citicorp. Both earlier agreed to plead guilty, and both testified during the three-week trial of Aiyer that began at the end of October.

In addition to Aiyer, Cummins, and Katz, the Antitrust Division has charged three other individuals in its investigation of collusion in the FX spot market. In addition, JPMorgan, BNP Paribas, Barclays, and Citicorp, as well as The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, have pleaded guilty and collectively paid billions in criminal fines for their roles in scheme.

The Justice Department said that the evidence presented at trial established that the Aiyer engaged in near-daily communications with his co-conspirators by phone, text and through an exclusive electronic chat room to coordinate their trades of the CEEMEA currencies in the FX spot market. The jury heard evidence that the conspirators agreed to withhold bids or offers to avoid moving the exchange rate in a direction adverse to open positions held by co-conspirators and by coordinating their trading to manipulate the rates in an effort to increase their profits. The government explained that, by agreeing not to buy or sell at certain times, the conspiring traders protected each other’s trading positions by withholding supply of or demand for currency and suppressing competition in the FX spot market for emerging market currencies. The jury also heard evidence that the defendant and his co-conspirators took steps to conceal their actions by, among other steps, using code names, communicating on personal cell phones during work hours and meeting in person to discuss particular customers and trading strategies, according to the Justice Department.

According to the government, the Antitrust Division’s investigation of collusion in the financial markets is ongoing. Sentencing for Aiyer is set for April 3, 2020.

"This conviction serves as a reminder of our commitment to hold individuals responsible for their involvement in complex financial schemes which violate the integrity of the global financial markets," said Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division, in a statement.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Inspector General Jay N. Lerner added that the "verdict holds the defendant accountable for manipulating the foreign currency market for his own benefit at the expense of free and open competition. We are dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to investigate such complex crimes which undermine the integrity of financial markets, and to bring bank insiders to justice."

The FDIC Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office are conducting the ongoing investigation. The prosecution is being handled by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office.

Attorneys: Benjamin Sirota and Kevin Hart for Department of Justice. Martin Klotz (Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP) for Akshay Aiyer.

Companies: JPMorgan Chase & Co.; BNP Paribas USA; Barclays PLC; Citicorp; Royal Bank of Scotland plc

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