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UK-based ‘Cartel’ currency traders agree to US surrender

Three UK-based former currency traders, dubbed the “Cartel”, have struck a deal with US authorities to surrender and face charges following the criminal investigation into rigging of the $5.3tn-a-day foreign exchange market.

The deal with the US Department of Justice, which still needs to be signed off by a judge, is intended to bypass a lengthy extradition battle for the trio, who all deny allegations they manipulated the price of US dollars and euros. In exchange for surrendering and agreeing a set security with the DoJ, the defendants will be able to return to the UK pending trial.

Richard Usher, a former trader at JPMorgan Chase, Rohan Ramchandani, formerly Citigroup’s head of G-10 spot currency trading, and Christopher Ashton, an ex- Barclays trader, were all indicted by the DoJ’s antitrust division earlier this year on a single count of rigging.

A hearing has been set for the judge to decide whether to approve the deal with the DoJ on July 17, when all three defendants will appear in a New York court.

The deal is the culmination of months of painstaking mediation between the DoJ and the defendants’ legal teams.

The traders were nicknamed the “Cartel” and also the “Mafia” in chatroom messages that 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 charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1m fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the alleged crime or twice the loss suffered by victims if either amount is greater than $1m.

The decision by the trio not to fight extradition comes after the UK’s Serious Fraud Office last year dropped its own criminal probe into forex-rigging after deciding there was not enough evidence to mount a successful prosecution.

“Mr Usher has a very good case to contest extradition,” said Jonathan Pickworth, his lawyer at White & Case in London. “Nonetheless, he is going voluntarily to the US. He is innocent of any wrongdoing and welcomes this, his first opportunity to defend himself almost four years after this investigation began.”

Alison Geary, a lawyer for Mr Ramchandani at WilmerHale, said: “Mr Ramchandani has agreed to travel voluntarily to the USA to stand trial and clear his name. He has not committed any criminal offence. The Serious Fraud Office itself concluded as much, after 18 months of investigation and the review of half a million documents.”

Sara George, a lawyer for Mr Ashton at Stephenson Harwood, said: “At all material times Chris Ashton worked in England for Barclays, an English bank. He complied fully with what he understood to be the legal and compliance requirements of an English bank. He was never given any legal advice, guidance or instruction by Barclays in relation to US law.”

She added that Barclays had refused to pay for his legal fees and he “has no personal resources with which to fund his defence”.

“Mr Ashton will be entirely dependent on the goodwill of local counsel and the kind assistance of the lawyers representing Mr Usher and Mr Ramchandani and wishes to acknowledge with gratitude their help,” she said.

Barclays declined to comment.

The agreement was first reported by Bloomberg News, citing a DoJ letter read out in court.

A fourth member of the chatroom, Matt Gardiner, who worked at UBS and Standard Chartered, has been co-operating with the DoJ in its probe, the Financial Times previously reported. He has not been indicted with the trio. Mr Gardiner’s solicitor at Taylor Wessing declined to comment.

The trio’s decision stands in contrast to that of Stuart Scott, HSBC’s former London-based head of currencies trading, who along with his ex-boss, Mark Johnson, was indicted last year by the DoJ’s fraud section in a separate strand of the forex probe. Mr Scott, who lives in London, was arrested last week in the UK at the behest of US authorities. He will contest extradition and denies wrongdoing.

Additional reporting by Katie Martin in London