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UBS scandal 'It can absolutely happen again': rogue trader

Former UBS trader Kweku Adoboli leaving court in London for a lunch break


The London trader convicted in 2012 for losing $2.3 billion (CHF2.2 billion) of Swiss bank UBS's money says a scandal like his could happen again – the industry has not done enough to curb the pressures that demand high risk-taking.

Kweku Adoboli, whose unauthorised trading in 2011 for Switzerland’s largest bank made him the biggest rogue trader in British history, told the BBC for a story published online on Mondayexternal link that banking must do more to restore public trust.

"I think the young people I've spoken to, former colleagues I have spoken to, are still struggling with the same issues, the same conflicts, the same pressures to achieve no matter what,” Adoboli said in his first broadcast interview.

"And this goes back to the structure of the industry. People are required to take risk to generate profit, because yields in the industry are consistently compressed,” he said. "And if investment banks continue to chase the same level of profitability as they have in the past, the only way to generate those profits is to take more risk.”

It’s that risk-taking that eventually got Adoboli convicted of two counts of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison.

"But from a politics angle, the desire is to limit that risk taking, to limit the profitability, but you have these conflicted goals,” he said. "And where the conflict comes is where people fall into this grey zone, and so I think it can absolutely happen again. Especially as we go into what could be the next phase of the great financial crisis over the next 12 to 24 months."

Facing deportation

Adoboli was jailed from his arrest in September 2011 until June 2012, before his conviction, then sent to prison after his November 2012 conviction. He was released in June 2015 and served with deportation proceeding the next month, as he had remained a Ghanaian citizen despite living in the United Kingdom since 1991.

He has apologised for the losses, which led to a nine-week trial that mesmerised London and seemed to capture the ethos of antipathy toward the banking world brought low by the global financial crisis of 2008-09. The judge who sentenced him observed that his "fall from grace as a result of these convictions is spectacular". 

The discovery of his rogue trading capped a series of blows that had pounded UBS over several years.

UBS was Switzerland’s only bank to receive a government bail-out after being burned by the financial crisis. And in 2009, UBS was forced to pay a huge fine and release names of nearly 5,000 clients after being caught helping US clients evade taxes. The bank then faced a series of law suits in the US from clients and institutions that lost money during the financial crisis.

Adoboli claims others at the bank knew of his actions. Others testified in court, however, that he was acting alone, and UBS denied anyone else knew what he was doing. No other UBS traders faced charges for the losses.

He now faces deportation to Ghana, but is fighting to remain in the UK despite not being allowed to take paid work. He lives with friends and gives free speeches at banking compliance meetings.

The way forward

"I am devastated not for myself but for my institution and the people I have worked with,” he told the BBC.

"The very first thing I did when I was arrested was say I'm sorry beyond words and I said it through my lawyers, but that is what I said," he said.

The only way to move forward, he says, is to face what he has done with full honesty, but does not think of himself as a criminal.

"I accept I was found guilty of a crime that had dishonesty central to it,” he said.

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