Two former JPMorgan Chase & Co. traders were indicted for engaging in a scheme to hide trading losses that eventually surpassed $6.2 billion on wrong-way derivatives bets last year.
Javier Martin-Artajo, who oversaw trading strategy for the synthetic portfolio at the bank’s chief investment office in London, and Julien Grout, a trader who worked for him, were named in a federal indictment, which was unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. The U.S. first announced charges against the men in August.
Both were charged in the indictment with five criminal counts, including conspiracy, securities fraud, filing false books and records, wire fraud and making false filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The pair, along with unnamed co-conspirators, are accused of engaging in a scheme to manipulate and inflate the value of position markings in the synthetic credit portfolio, or SCP.
The two “manipulated and inflated the value of position markings in the Synthetic Credit Portfolio in order to achieve specific daily and month-end profit and loss objectives,” the U.S. alleged in the indictment. “In other words, they artificially increased the marked value of securities in order to hide the true extent of significant losses in that trading portfolio.”
JPMorgan has agreed to pay at least $750 million to resolve U.S. and U.K. regulatory probes of its record trading loss, people with knowledge of the negotiations said. The bank is seeking to settle as many inquiries as possible before the third quarter ends Sept. 30, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are private.
Ed Little, a lawyer for Grout, and Meeta Vadher, a spokeswoman for Martin-Artajo’s lawyers, didn’t immediately return e-mails after regular business hours seeking comment on the indictment. Joe Evangelisti, a spokesman for New York-based JPMorgan, declined to comment on the charges against the two men.
Martin-Artajo and Grout were named in criminal complaints filed by prosecutors in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Aug. 14 that charged them with four separate counts of conspiracy, falsifying books and records, wire fraud, false filings with the SEC. The indictment adds the securities fraud charge, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.
The U.S. said that at its most profitable point in 2009, the SCP produced more than $1 billion in revenue for JPMorgan.
Bruno Iksil, the Frenchman at the center of the case who became known as the London Whale because his portfolio was so large, wasn’t named in the filing. He signed a non- prosecution agreement with the U.S. in June, Bharara said last month. Iksil has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors as part of the deal with the U.S.
Martin-Artajo “engaged and directed” the scheme in order to enhance his apparent job performance and position at JPMorgan and eligibility for promotion and bonuses, and to “forestall a possible plan by the bank to move the synthetic credit portfolio to JPMorgan’s investment bank,” prosecutors said.
Grout was accused of participating with Martin-Artajo in the conspiracy to “curry favor with his supervisor and to enhance his apparent job performance,” according to the indictment.
While the government says other unnamed co-conspirators acted with Martin-Artajo and Grout, the indictment describes “Trader #2” and “Trader #3” as JPMorgan employees who worked in London for Martin-Artajo at the Chief Investment Office. “Trader #2” had the responsibility for marking the positions of the SCP when Grout was unavailable or out of the office, prosecutors alleged.
Beginning in January 2012, the SCP began to lose money so Grout marked the positions and reported about $100 million in mark-to-market losses, the U.S. said in the indictment.
The losses “did not go unnoticed” by the chief investment officer who was Martin-Artajo’s direct superior at the bank, prosecutors said. She sent him an e-mail stating that the portfolio’s financial performance “is worrisome” and that there was a need to “urgently reevaluate” the core position. Martin-Artajo “was directed to focus his attention on the SCP’s performance,” the U.S. alleged.
The losses continued at the SCP, placing Martin-Artajo under “continued and increasing scrutiny and pressure” from the executives senior to him, prosecutors said.
“Martin-Artajo, in turn, began pressuring Julien Grout and ‘‘Co-conspirator-1’’ to ‘defend the positions’ near the end of the month,” the U.S. alleged in the indictment.
The SCP reported about $100 million in mark-to-market losses at the end of February, the U.S. said.
Martin-Artajo and Grout then began to “more aggressively” hide the losses in March, causing false entries to be made in the bank’s books and records both intra-month and at month-end, the U.S. said.
Co-conspirator-1 was “uncomfortable” following Martin- Artajo’s direction not to report the losses and asked Grout to create a spreadsheet tracking the difference between Grout’s manipulated marks and objective market data. He also later directed Grout to send a copy of the spreadsheet to Martin- Artajo.
By March, the U.S. said, Martin-Artajo directed Grout and the unnamed co-conspirator not to show any additional losses and instead directed traders “to continue to show gains.”
Martin-Artajo told the subordinates that no losses were to be reported in the marks or to bank’s management unless there was an identifiable event that traders could refer to to explain the negative price movement, the U.S. said.
“Martin-Artajo claimed that this was what ‘New York’ -- that is, the bank’s senior management in New York -- wanted, explaining that those JPMorgan officials did not want to see day-to-day market volatility,” according to the indictment.
The U.S. said that Co-conspirator-1 repeatedly sounded the alarm about the scheme. Co-conspirator-1 suggested in Mid-March of that year that he, Grout and Martin-Artajo adjust the SCP to reflect the true market data or even to take a “one-off” loss to catch up with the market, prosecutors said. Martin-Artajo rebuffed the suggestion, the U.S. alleged.
In an instant message chat on March 16, 2012, Co- conspirator-1 warned Grout not to “better” efforts to disguise a loss to superiors, according to the indictment. He added, referring to Martin-Artajo, “I don’t know where he wants to stop, but it’s getting idiotic.”
In August, Bharara said the co-conspirator who exchanged that and other messages with Grout was Iksil. Iksil was also directed by Martin-Artajo to mismark books, Bharara said then.
Mismarkings of the portfolio continued into April 2012, the U.S. said. The two men later caused JPMorgan to make false filings of books and records with the SEC from March to May of 2012, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors seek forfeiture from both Martin-Artajo and Grout for any illegally obtained proceeds they earned in the scheme as well as the salaries JPMorgan paid them during the time they committed the alleged crimes.
Bharara has urged both men to surrender to U.S. authorities to face charges that they hid the bank’s trading losses on derivatives. Lawyers for Grout, who is a French citizen, have said he’s in France.
Martin-Artajo was released from police custody in Spain after telling a Madrid court that he opposed attempts by U.S. prosecutors to extradite him to face prosecution in New York.
The bank’s bad bets on derivatives, placed by Iksil, prompted authorities on two continents to open investigations into the firm’s controls and disclosures last year. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority are among watchdogs planning to sanction the lender, the people said.
JPMorgan may make some admissions while settling with the SEC, such as conceding that it erred in how it oversaw the traders and their unit, a person briefed on those talks said last month. The bank isn’t likely to admit mistakes beyond what it disclosed when releasing the results of an internal review earlier this year, the person said.
Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake told investors last week that the quarter’s addition to legal reserves would “more than offset” about $1.5 billion of consumer reserve releases.
© Copyright 2022 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.