The US Wednesday charged a pair of former JPMorgan Chase traders with fraud in connection with the 2012 $6.2 billion "London whale" trading losses.
Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, alleging the two men kept false records on the trades, committed wire fraud and submitted false US securities filings.
The charges are the first criminal case to stem from last year's mammoth trading loss. The Securities and Exchange Commission also filed parallel civil charges against the two men alleging securities fraud.
A third ex-JPMorgan official involved in the trades, French national Bruno Iksil -- originally identified as the "London Whale" responsible for the trades -- was cleared of criminal responsibility after cooperating with prosecutors.
"Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, deliberately and repeatedly lied about the fair value of billions of dollars in assets on JPMorgan's books in order to cover up massive losses," said US Attorney Preet Bharara at a news conference.
Bharara declined to elaborate on where the investigation could next lead, but said the probe "remains open." Neither man has been arrested yet. Martin-Artajo, 49, is a Spaniard who resides in London, while Grout, 35, resides in his native France.
"Our hope remains that these people will come to the US," Bharara said.
Martin-Artajo's lawfirm had no comment Wednesday. The firm Tuesday released a statement that said Martin-Artajo would be "cleared of any wrongdoing."
An attorney for Grout could not be reached for immediate comment. His attorney, Edward Little, told AFP Tuesday that his client "has done nothing wrong."
Martin-Artajo, Iksil and Grout all worked together on the London trading team, with Grout reporting to Iksil and Iksil reporting to Martin-Artajo.
The complaint documents how the London team allegedly falsified financial records after Martin-Artajo was pressured from higher-ups about losses in early 2012.
Martin-Artajo directed underlings to discount the losses and count positions in ways that departed from company practice of pricing assets at mid-market levels, according to the complaint.
It cites phone calls and emails from the unnamed Iksil, who is identified as a "co-conspirator not named as a defendant."
Iksil is depicted in the complaints as a generally unwilling participant in the cover-up, urging Martin-Artajo to revise pricing practices to more accurately reflect losses and taking steps to document and highlight the growing gap between the division's reported and actual losses.
At one point, Iksil directed Grout to prepare a spreadsheet documenting this gap and send it to him and Martin-Artajo. Iksil also prepared a written commentary distributed to Chief Investment Office managers that warned that the "lag in (profits and losses) is material ($600-$800 million.)"
At another point, Martin-Artajo fought with Iksil after he reported in an email a single-day trading loss of $40 million. Martin-Artajo erupted at the document, saying putting the information in an email "just creates more tension," according to a recorded phone call.
Bharara told reporters that non-prosecution agreements like Iksil's are "rare" and depend on a number of factors, such as the party's culpability, degree of cooperation and his ability to be compelled to testify.
"I don't think you could call him blameless," Bharara said of Iksil. "But Iksil did sound the alarm on more than one occasion."
As a result of the false records, JPMorgan in July 2012 restated losses from its corporate private equity division, which included the London trading operation, by $459 million.
The defendants each face a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison when all the criminal charges are combined, and in addition a fine of $5 million, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offenses, whichever is greater. Civil penalties in the SEC case include paying back ill-gotten gains and a fine.
The indictments are the first in the wake of the debacle, which led to senior bank resignations, slashed pay for JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and a plethora of government probes.
JPMorgan declined comment Wednesday.
The bank is in talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve civil charges stemming from the case. The agency is pressing for an admission of wrongdoing in the case, according to media reports.
The London whale case is one of several regulatory headaches still facing JPMorgan. The bank also faces probes on its sale of mortgage-backed securities, among other issues.