The corruption of the world’s biggest currency dealers was laid bare on Wednesday when regulators imposed £2bn of fines on five major banks for rigging the £3.5tn-a-day foreign exchange markets.
Regulators said they had found a “free for all culture” rife on their trading floors which allowed the markets to be rigged for five years, from January 2008 to October 2013.
The much-anticipated record settlement with US and UK regulators did not include Barclays, which remains in discussions with other regulators.
Each of the fines imposed on Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Citibank, JP Morgan and UBS were records for the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), smashing the penalties imposed over the last two years for Libor rigging.
The government welcomed the action. The chancellor, George Osborne, said: “Today we take tough action to clean up corruption by a few so that we have a financial system that works for everyone. It’s part of a long-term plan that is fixing what went wrong in Britain’s banks and our economy.”
Osborne will take a share of the fines for the Treasury and said they would be “used for the wider public good”.
In the UK, UBS was handed the biggest fine, at £233m, followed by £225m for Citibank, JPMorgan at £222m, RBS at £217m, and £216m for HSBC. Barclays has yet to settle. In the US, the regulator fined Citibank and JP Morgan $310m each, $290m each for RBS and UBS, and $275m for HSBC.
Andrea Leadsom, a Treasury minister, said people who have done wrong “will not be back in a dealing room on a big salary” and “everything that can be done to punish this type of behaviour” will be done.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s completely disgusting. I think taxpayers will be horrified … I don’t know if corruption is a strong enough word for it.”
Leadsom said it was particularly bad that this was going on at a time when taxpayers were bailing out the banks.