Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UBS' Track Record of Averting Prosecution Coming to an End?

In recent years UBS has increasingly gained a reputation for being an bad firm.  The latest Libor rate scandal, which affected an untold number of customers, and their brokers, is just the most recent example.

The New York Times has picked up the story, and urges the Justice Department to consider the record of the Swiss banking giant. UBS is one of more than a dozen banks being investigated for manipulating interest rates for their own benefit. As the NYT correctly points out, at UBS, a series of immunity, nonprosecution and deferred prosecution agreements in recent years seems to have had scant, if any, deterrent effect.

As the article points out, UBS is not alone in its seemly never ending string of violations and charges, but in many ways, UBS is in a league of its own given its track record for scandals. UBS was deemed "too big to fail" in the financial crisis and had to be bailed out after a $50 BILLION write-down on mortgage backed securities.

The NYT has summarized its ability to escape criminal prosecution, presumably because of its status. However, the continued impact of its conduct on the investing public, its own brokers and employees, and the markets in general, cannot, and should not be ignored.
  •  UBS obtained a deferred prosecution agreement in 2009 for conspiring to defraud the United States of tax revenue by creating more than 17,000 secret Swiss accounts for United States taxpayers who failed to declare income and committed tax fraud. UBS bankers trolled for wealthy clients susceptible to tax evasion schemes at professional tennis matches, polo tournaments and celebrity events. One UBS banker smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste tube to accommodate a client. In return for the deferred prosecution agreement, UBS agreed to pay $780 million in fines and penalties and disclose the identities of many of its United States clients. At the same time it settled Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it acted as an unregistered broker-dealer and investment adviser to American clients and paid a $200 million fine. In October 2010 the government dropped the charges, saying UBS had fully complied with its obligations under the agreement. 
  • In May 2011, UBS admitted that its employees had repeatedly conspired to rig bids in the municipal bond derivatives market over a five-year period, defrauding more than 100 municipalities and nonprofit organizations, and agreed to pay $160 million in fines and restitution. An S.E.C. official called UBS’s conduct “a ‘how to’ primer for bid-rigging and securities fraud.” UBS landed a nonprosecution agreement for that behavior, and the Justice Department lauded the bank’s “remedial efforts” to curb anticompetitive practices.
  • In what the S.E.C. called at the time the largest settlement in its history, in 2008 UBS agreed to reimburse clients $22.7 billion to resolve charges that it defrauded customers who purchased auction-rate securities, which were sold by UBS as ultrasafe cash equivalents even though top UBS executives knew the market for the securities was collapsing. Seven of UBS’s top executives were said to have dumped their own holdings, totaling $21 million, even as they told the bank’s brokers to “mobilize the troops” and unload the securities on unsuspecting clients. As Andrew M. Cuomo, who was New York’s attorney general then, put it: “While thousands of UBS customers received no warning about the auction-rate securities market’s serious distress, David Shulman — one of the company’s top executives — used insider information to take the money and run.” Besides reimbursing clients and settling with the S.E.C., UBS paid a $150 million fine to settle consumer and securities fraud charges filed by New York and other states. It again escaped prosecution. 
There is more at the New York Times, read the entire article.
UBS’s Track Record of Averting Prosecution