- Former Barclays trader Christopher Ashton, 42, is being fined £920,000
- He was part of a group of dealers who called themselves the Cartel
- They used internet chatrooms to fix currency prices and share information
A former Barclays trader is being fined £920,000 by US authorities over his part in a massive currency exchange rigging scandal. Christopher Ashton, 42, was part of an elite group of euro dealers who called themselves the Cartel, according to the Federal Reserve.
They used internet chatrooms to fix currency prices and share confidential information, communicating in code and replacing letters with numbers to avoid detection. The aim was to artificially push currency prices up or down, earning extra cash at the expense of the clients in whose money they dealt. Ashton was desperate to join the group after previously setting up his own online networks such as the Essex Express, which focused on the Japanese yen, and Sterling Lads, for the pound. He fell short of his annual target in 2010, taking home a bonus of £380,000.
The banker then became Barclays’ main euro trader in 2011 and sought membership of the Cartel as he searched for an edge. Its members agreed to offer Ashton a one-month ‘trial’ but existing participant Rohan Ramchandani, a banker at Citi, warned him: ‘Mess this up and sleep with one eye open at night.’
Ashton managed to impress his peers and was given full-time membership of the group until it was disbanded at some point in 2012. Members swapped advice such as ‘if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying’ as they discussed ways to fix rates. In 2011, Ashton hit his target and nearly doubled his bonus to £725,000.
He was eventually promoted to become global head of Barclays’ FX spot business but was suspended and later fired after the scandal broke. The banker has since sued Barclays, claiming he blew the whistle on chatroom discussions. He complained that his sacking was unfair, only to be told by chief operating officer Justin Bull that ‘life isn’t fair’.
Ashton’s lawyers have claimed that investigators misunderstood innocent cockney rhyming slang in chat logs for a secret code. The trader lived in the affluent town of Billericay, Essex, in an exclusive gated mews with his 42-year-old wife Kelly-Jane. Their six-bedroom home has five bathrooms, a study, games room, walk-in wardrobe and dressing room as well as a double garage.
The couple, who have been married for 16 years, bought the detached three-storey property in the summer of 2013 for £1.3m. They put it on the market last month and it has since been sold – subject to contract – for almost £1.6m. Designer handbags and shoes which appear to be worth thousands of pounds can be seen displayed in the master bedroom’s dressing room in an online sales brochure which shows the inside of the property.
In addition to the Fed’s fine, which he has the right to formally challenge, Ashton has also been permanently banned from US banking. A British criminal investigation into the scandal has been shelved due to lack of evidence but work by the US Department of Justice is continuing. The currency fixing scandal has cost Barclays £1.8bn in criminal and civil fines. Senior HSBC banker Mark Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud in America. Johnson was the bank’s global head of foreign exchange cash trading at the time of his arrest last month by federal agents, who swooped on him at JFK airport in New York.