Ex-JPMorgan Trader Latest Charged for Currency-Market Scam

(Bloomberg) -- A former JPMorgan Chase & Co. trader was charged with taking part in the rigging of African, European and Middle Eastern currencies, the latest person to be accused in a global crackdown on currency manipulation.

Akshay Aiyer was indicted in New York on Thursday. Prosecutors said he and his accomplices, including former Barclays Plc currency trader Jason Katz and ex-Citigroup trader Christopher Cummins, plotted from at least October 2010 through at least July 2013 to eliminate competition by fixing prices and rigging bids and offers.

The charges stem from a yearslong investigation by the Justice Department’s antitrust division into price fixing in currency markets. Three former U.K. traders were indicted last year with conspiring to rig markets using an electronic chat room known as "The Cartel." They deny wrongdoing.

“Today’s indictment charges the defendant with illegally manipulating the foreign currency exchange market in order to boost earnings, squelch free-market competition and then cover his tracks,” Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Inspector General Jay N. Lerner said in a statement.

Currency Moves

Aiyer left JPMorgan about three or four years ago, according to a person familiar with the matter. The indictment doesn’t specify where Aiyer was employed. The bank didn’t have an immediate comment. The Department of Justice declined to comment on his employer.

According to the indictment, Aiyer and his co-conspirators held almost daily conversations in electronic chat rooms, on the phone and through text messages, agreeing to suppress and eliminate competition by coordinating bids and offers and sometimes refraining from trading against each other.

The traders used code names when talking about customers and also met in person in New York to discuss particular clients and trading strategies, according to the indictment.

Banks have paid more than $10 billion in penalties for currency-market abuse. Katz was the first person to plead guilty when he admitted in January 2017 to conspiring to fix prices while working at three different financial institutions over a period of six years. Cummins admitted guilt a week later.

A one-time UBS Group AG trader who was also a member of The Cartel, Matt Gardiner, has been helping prosecutors build cases against those traders, people familiar with the matter have previously told Bloomberg. Former HSBC Holdings Plc trader Mark Johnson was convicted last year of front-running a $3.5 billion client order in December 2011. He was sentenced last month to two years in prison.

South Africa’s antitrust regulator identified Ayier as one of dozens of traders who took part in a conspiracy to rig foreign-currency markets while working at JPMorgan in referring more than a dozen banks for prosecution last year. In one example, the South African regulator said Aiyer in August 2012 asked another trader to stop buying U.S. dollars as he was driving to drive down the price.

Ayier faces as long as 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted in the U.S. He didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message left at a number listed for him in a database. Court records don’t identify his attorney.

The case is U.S. v. Aiyer, 18-cr-333, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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