Tempered approach by Singaporean regulator into LIBOR equivalent reveals inconsistencies in approach to global rate rigging scandal

19 June 2013

On Friday 14 June, the Monetary Authority of Singapore ("MAS") announced that it had completed its year-long review into the Singaporean equivalent of LIBOR – the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate ("SIBOR").

The MAS announcement highlights the inconsistent approach being taken by different regulators to the global rate fixing scandal.  SIBOR, like LIBOR, is a daily reference rate detailing the interest rates at which banks can borrow funds from each other in their local market. It also serves as a benchmark for a number of financial derivative products and profitability of transactions can be materially influenced by changes in the rate.  The banks that found themselves in the crosshairs of the MAS were accused of allowing traders to attempt inappropriately to influence the benchmark, much in the same way that their LIBOR equivalents have found themselves the subject of scrutiny in the UK and US.

Significantly, the action against individuals involved in the attempted SIBOR manipulation has been far more measured.  The MAS found that 133 persons were found to have engaged in several attempts to inappropriately influence benchmarks.  Three quarters of those traders have either resigned or been requested to leave their banks. The individuals that remain will be subject to disciplinary actions by their banks including reassignment to other jobs, demotions and forfeiture of bonuses.  The MAS has not indicated that it will be taking any further action against these individuals and, although certain cases have been referred to the Attorney General's office, criminal sanctions appear to be unlikely.

This is in marked contrast to the approach taken by UK and US authorities who appear to be pursuing individuals with vigour. To date, the US Department of Justice has filed criminal complaints, the UK Serious Fraud Office has arrested three individuals and charged one, and a whole host of others have been interviewed by the FSA/FCA. Whilst the specifics of these investigations are unknown, it is to be questioned whether the behaviour of these individuals is any more egregious and therefore worthy of punishment than the behaviour of those in Singapore. What is known is that there were widespread institutional failings at banks responsible for submitting benchmark rates.  It appears that the MAS has taken this into account and deemed that depriving an individual of his livelihood is sufficient punishment.  With this in mind, it is to be queried whether the approach taken by UK and US regulators is truly fair, reasonable and proportionate, or whether hindsight and political expediency are the true driving forces.

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