The Libor scandal is more than just the latest financial deception to come to light. It exposes a fraud that runs to the heart of our financial system.
The London interbank offered rate is a benchmark for a range of interest rates, and the misdeeds making headlines have to do with how those rates are set. If insiders can manipulate the basic measurement of a loan — the interest rate — there is rot at the core of the financial system.
The British financial giant Barclays has admitted to manipulating the rate from 2005 to at least 2009. When the bank made a bet on the direction in which interest rates would turn, the Barclays employees who submit data for calculating interest rates would fake their numbers to help Barclays traders win the bet. Day after day, year after year, bet after bet, Barclays made money by fixing bets for its own traders.
We don’t know who else was fixing bets. Other big banks, including some of the largest in the United States, are under investigation. Barclays doesn’t appear to have acted alone, and it is clear that its fixes weren’t secret deals by rogue traders. Traders put requests to manipulate the rates in writing and even joked about delivering champagne to those who helped them.
Elizabeth Warren chaired the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel from 2008 to 2010. She is the Democratic nominee for a U.S. Senate seat representing Massachusetts. This column ran first in The Washington Post.