Monday, July 23, 2012
LIBOR Fraud May Be the Mother of All Bank Scandals
In fact, this may be the mother of all scandals—the one that finally leads to criminal charges and the insolvency of major banks. The fraud is breathtakingly easy to understand once past a small amount of jargon. Indeed, the simplicity of the fraud is the greatest threat to the perpetrators because here at last is a fraud that is easy for juries to understand and for prosecutors to prove.
But this time it's different and here's why: The sheer volume of contracts based on LIBOR defies the imagination. Estimates vary, but $500 trillion seems reasonable. Even if the banks lied by as little as one-tenth of 1 percent, that percentage applied to $500 trillion multiplied by the six years of the fraud comes to $3 trillion stolen from customers. Cutting that amount in half to allow for the fact that some customers benefited from the fraud while others lost still gives implied damages of $1.5 trillion, greater than the combined capital of all of the too-big-too-fail banks in the United States. Taken to the full extent of the law, these damages are enough to render a large segment of the global banking system insolvent. These damages will be pursued not by regulators, but in private lawsuits by class action lawyers.