The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the British equivalent of the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, has just finalized the Euribor affair, one of the major financial court cases of the past decade. On June 10, he discreetly abandoned the European arrest warrant for four ex-traders Stéphane Esper, a former Societe Generale member, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou and Kai-Uwe Kappauf, three former Deutsche Bank alumni .
This epilogue concludes a dossier that has gradually deflated for the SFO. Presented initially as a major scandal of financial manipulation, it ends with four convictions on the eleven people initially prosecuted, and the impression that the case was less serious than it seemed at first glance.
A bitter taste
The abandonment of the four European arrest warrants will no doubt leave a bitter taste for traders who had agreed to answer to British justice. In early 2016, the latter summoned the eleven accused for a preliminary hearing. Five of them, based outside the United Kingdom, then refused to appear. The other six, while claiming their innocence, agree to appear. Among them are two Frenchmen, Christian Bittar and Philippe Moryoussef, who come from Singapore, where they are then stationed, to defend themselves in person.
For the future of the defendants, the decision to appear that day will change everything. British justice issues European arrest warrants against the absent. Normally, this is a simple formality. But the French and German courts are quarreling. They do not understand what is criticized of traders or believe that the facts, dating from 2005 to 2010, are prescribed. In all cases, they block extraditions. As a result, these five traders will no longer be worried, as long as they remain in their country (one of them will be arrested during a stay in Italy, extradited to the United Kingdom, where he will win his trial). The surrender of the arrest warrant against them on June 10 ends this aspect of the case.
Those who agreed to answer to British justice, however, have lived through years of legal proceedings and trials. What is it against them? Agreeing to manipulate Euribor, an interbank interest rate calculated every day from the rate charged by a panel of 48 banks. To prove the facts, the SFO relies on numerous electronic messages where traders actually ask each other to slightly raise or lower their rate.
No one disputes the reality of these messages. But was it illegal? Traders have always argued that they are not hiding. Their practices were those of all their colleagues at the time. Before the 2008 financial explosion, no one could fault it. For them, the SFO made them scapegoats, in order to prove that it had learned the lessons of the crisis.
The SFO replies on the contrary that the manipulation of the Euribor rate was a major scandal. He recalls that this rate is used as a reference for billions of euros in financial products and that even minor manipulation can damage the confidence of all financial markets.
From 2018, the SFO obtained the first convictions. Christian Bittar, who was identified as one of the leaders of the cartel, agreed to plead guilty just before his trial, which allowed him to benefit from a significant reduction in sentence. He was sentenced to five years and four months in prison. Two other traders were sentenced to four and five years in prison, while two others were acquitted.
There remains the case of Philippe Moryoussef, the other Frenchman in the case, who refused to go to trial, but too late not to be tried. He was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison (the verdict is particularly harsh given his absence from trial and his refusal to plead guilty). He is currently in France, waiting for British justice to issue a possible arrest warrant against him. SFO says “Do everything to ensure that Mr. Moryoussef respects his conviction”. But the latter intends to fight to the end, notably considering sending his case up to the European Court of Human Rights.