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‘Cartel’ currency traders plead not guilty in US court hearing

Three British-based former currency traders made their first appearances before a US judge on Monday, after opting not to fight extradition and face charges in connection with a sprawling probe into alleged rigging of foreign-exchange benchmarks.

Lawyers for Christopher Ashton of Barclays, Rohan Ramchandani of Citigroup and Richard Usher of JPMorgan Chase — who are accused of being part of a group dubbed “the Cartel” in which they schemed to fix prices and rig bids for US dollars and euros in the FX spot market — entered pleas of not guilty during the brief hearing before US District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan federal court.

All three defendants are citizens and residents of the UK but have agreed to waive extradition and appear voluntarily for their arraignments on the single criminal charge in the indictment, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1m fine. The fine could be increased to twice the amount of gain or loss allegedly derived from the crime if the amount exceeds $1m.

Bail has been set at $650,000 for Mr Usher, $1m for Mr Ramchandani and $200,000 for Mr Ashton, which will partially be secured by cash deposits. All three will be allowed to return to the UK while awaiting trial, following lengthy discussions with US prosecutors over the terms of their surrender. Lawyers for the three men indicated during the hearing that they will ask Judge Berman to dismiss the charges against them.

The three men were all senior traders whose chatroom messages were at the heart of multi-bank civil settlements with US and UK authorities in 2014 and 2015. Some of the biggest banks in the world — including those where the traders used to work — have paid a total of $10bn in fines as part of the scandal.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office decided last year to drop its own probe into the same group of traders after concluding there was insufficient evidence to mount a successful prosecution.