December 19, 2012

UBS to pay $1.5B over rate-rigging scandal

The settlement with U.S., British and Swiss regulators caps a tough year for the Swiss company and the reputation of the global banking industry.

John Heilprin / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

In an interview with Swiss TV, Ermotti said the bank fired 36 employees involved in the scandal over the past 18 months and learned some clear lessons from it — mainly that "we had to strengthen our controls."

"We are on our way to finding solutions to some of the problems," he told the German-speaking public broadcaster SRF. "We have to recognize our failures and learn from them, but also look ahead."

With more than 2.2 trillion Swiss francs ($2.4 trillion) in invested assets, UBS is one of the world's largest managers of private wealth assets. At last count, the bank had 63,745 employees in 57 countries and said it aims for a headcount of 54,000 in 2015.

Along with Credit Suisse, the second-largest Swiss bank, UBS is on the list of the 29 "global systemically important banks" that the Bank for International Settlements — the central bank for central banks — considers too big to fail.

It's not the first time that UBS has fallen afoul of regulators. In 2009, U.S. authorities fined UBS $780 million for helping U.S. citizens avoid paying taxes.

The U.S. government has since been pushing Switzerland to loosen its rules on banking secrecy. The country has been trying to shed its image as a tax haven, signing deals with the U.S., Germany and Britain to provide greater assistance to foreign tax authorities seeking information on their citizens' accounts.

Ermotti has called Switzerland's tax disputes with the U.S. and some European nations "an economic war" putting thousands of jobs at risk.

In September 2011, UBS revealed that unauthorized trades in London by a 32-year-old employee, Kweku Adoboli, had cost it more than $2 billion, the biggest ever fraud at a bank in Britain.

Britain's financial regulator fined UBS, saying its internal controls were inadequate to prevent Adoboli, a relatively inexperienced trader, from making vast and risky bets. Adoboli has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

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