Hardly a day goes by without another financial scandal that has made the rich richer and the poor poorer.
London Interbank Offered Rate -- LIBOR -- is what British and international banks come up with every business day or a key global interest rate for 10 currencies supposedly based on a common appraisal of market forces.
What a bank would pay to borrow dollars for three months from another bank is the LIBOR fix.
LIBOR is then used by millions of businesses worldwide to set interest rates for contracts, loan commitments, derivative products, even more important than the overnight Fed funds rate.
From mortgages to derivatives, LIBOR sets rates for some $800 trillion in financial instruments.
For months, rumors and gossip led to investigations about LIBOR manipulation -- and to Barclays Bank, a much respected, 300-year-old global British institution.
Systemic corruption on a massive scale and a bonus culture coupled with what is tantamount to a rigged roulette wheel spawned a new moneyed aristocracy.
Barclays admitted that its traders had manipulated rates hundreds of times. Former employees said the practice was at least 15 years old.
The weekly Economist said this could be the biggest securities fraud in history that is "affecting investors and borrowers around the world."
The scope of this institutional corruption can be gauged by the size of the fine imposed on Barclays -- almost half a billion dollars -- for confessing to shady practices in the LIBOR casino.
The resignation of Bob Diamond, Barclays chief executive, a U.S. citizen, came after he made almost $155 million since he joined the bank's board in 2006 and is in line for another $34 million under contractual entitlements.
Jerry del Missier, Barclays chief operating officer, resigned a few hours after Diamond.
Next day, a British parliamentary investigating committee questioned Diamond for three hours. He called the LIBOR casino reprehensible and that he was "physically ill" when he read the e-mail of culprit traders.
But he didn't feel ill when asked about rates submitted to LIBOR that were lower than the true cost of borrowing, a move designed to lower the temperature in the rapidly evolving crisis.
The investigation is still in its infancy. The new trail of vandalism stretches round the globe.
Barclays' admission of guilt is but the first tear in a global fabric of deceit. The biggest names in banking are under investigation.
LIBOR's global fixed roulette wheel is now under investigation from London to Hong Kong to Beijing to New York and back to Europe's trading capitals.
The suspicion is growing that EURIBOR -- based on the Euro in Brussels -- is part of the same transnational cartel.
"All major global banking players … are likely involved," says Hans Black, a leading global financial authority in Toronto, and "we will hear a great deal more about this fiasco in the coming months as not only British authorities but also many other countries' regulatory bodies have admitted to being in the midst of extensive investigations in these matters."
"Back in 2008 and early 2009," Black adds, "few understood what a credit default swap was and even less, the extent of the use of derivatives and how they brought the global banking system to its knees. Most politicians were simply not equipped to engage bankers on the sophisticated debate turf … of complex credit instruments."
Richard McCormack, a former executive vice chairman of the Bank of America, served in five U.S. administrations, including undersecretary of state for economic affairs and is currently senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On June 19, he told an audience in Budapest:
"We are now in the middle of a global economic and political crisis, the intensity of which is unprecedented in the post-World War II era … The strains … have spread throughout the world. Many governments have already fallen, and more will do so … because of persistent unemployment and popular anger and distrust."
And this was before LIBOR hit the fan -- and the headlines.
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