March 31, 2023

DealBook: Banking Official Faces Panel in Barclays Scandal

Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England.Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg NewsPaul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England.

LONDON — The scandal over the manipulation of global interest rates until now has mostly put bankers in the spotlight. But the focus on Monday will turn to the regulators, both on what they did and what they did not do.

Paul Tucker, a deputy governor at the Bank of England, will give evidence on whether senior government officials put pressure on Barclays to lower its submissions to the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays agreed in late June to pay some $450 million to settle accusations from United States and British authorities that its traders and senior executives had manipulated the rate, which underpins trillions of dollars of corporate loans, home mortgages and derivatives around the world.

Mr. Tucker’s testimony could put him at loggerheads with Robert E. Diamond Jr., the former chief executive of Barclays, who told the same committee last week that the Bank of England, as well as the Financial Services Authority of Britain and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, had repeatedly been informed about the issue, but had not moved to stop it.

After resigning last Tuesday, Mr. Diamond released an e-mail last week that indicated that Mr. Tucker had questioned why the bank was submitting rates consistently higher than rivals, a sign of relatively poor health.

How Mr. Tucker responds promises to be a pivotal in the central banker’s career. The 54-year-old Cambridge graduate is a leading candidate to replace Mervyn King next year in the top job as the governor of the Bank of England, one of the world’s most important central banks.

“The focus will be on whether his recollection tallies with what Bob Diamond told us,” said Pat McFadden, a Labour member of Parliament who sits on the committee overseeing Mr. Tucker’s testimony. “We want to know if anyone at the Bank of England or in other government departments asked Barclays to lower its Libor submissions.”

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Tucker declined to comment.

The intense scrutiny confronting Mr. Tucker follows a career spanning more than three decades at the Bank of England. After brief stints in the 1980s at the British bank Baring Brothers and with the Hong Kong government, he rose through the ranks to become the British central bank’s deputy governor in charge of financial stability in 2009.

Mr. Tucker also is a leading figure in global efforts to overhaul financial regulation. Along with his Bank of England duties, he currently holds senior positions at both the Financial Stability Board and the Global Economy Meeting, whose memberships comprise officials from the world’s leading central banks.

Unlike some other regulators, Mr. Tucker is known for his practical understanding of both the financial markets and the current effort to provide extra financing support to prop up British banks, according to several of his current and former colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the importance of his testimony on Monday.

“He would be a good man for the top job” at the Bank of England, said one of the people. “He understands banks and is a naturally bright guy who gets how the financial system works.”

Mr. Tucker’s reputation, however, has been tarnished by the Libor scandal. The British government will start its search for a new central bank chief toward the end of the year.

Analysts say other potential candidates, like Gus O’Donnell, a recently retired high-ranking British civil servant, may benefit from Mr. Tucker’s involvement in the Barclays’ rate manipulation affair. “Intellectually, he’s not up to the job,” said David Blanchflower, a British economist who sat on the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee with Mr. Tucker from 2006 to 2009. “Every single call since 2007, he has got wrong.”

Mr. Blanchflower points to a Bank of England meeting in November 2007 led by Mr. Tucker when a number of officials raised concerns that Libor submissions were lower than market rates. “He was told about the problem, but didn’t do anything about it,” Mr. Blanchflower added.

A lot now depends on Mr. Tucker’s testimony. In a highly unusual step for a British government official, the central bank’s deputy governor released a statement last week, requesting to give evidence to the British parliamentary committee “as soon as possible.”

Robert E. Diamond Jr., who resigned as chief of Barclays last week, said the Bank of England knew of the rate discrepancies.Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated PressRobert E. Diamond Jr., who resigned as chief of Barclays last week, said the Bank of England knew of the rate discrepancies.

His testimony is expected to center primarily on a phone call with Mr. Diamond in late October 2008. Last week, the former Barclays chief told the parliamentary committee that Mr. Tucker had expressed concerns from senior British politicians that Barclays’ Libor submissions were higher than those of rivals.

Mr. Diamond then e-mailed Jerry del Missier, a top deputy, about the conversation, saying that Mr. Tucker had stated that it “did not always need to be the case that we appeared as high as we have recently,” according to documents released by Barclays.

Mr. del Missier, who also resigned last week because of the rate manipulation scandal, then directed employees to keep the submitted rates lower, or at least in line with rivals. His actions, some regulators say, were a result of a “miscommunication,” rather than instructions from Mr. Tucker.

Mr. Diamond has said that he did not tell senior executives to lower the bank’s Libor rate submissions. The former Barclays chief also said that he had been told only last month about the activity, which occurred amid the financial crisis.

“I was unaware that Jerry had the impression that Tucker’s phone call was taken as an instruction” to alter the rate, he told the committee.

The involvement of senior British officials has appeared to deflect some of the attention of the scandal away from Barclays. Some of the firm’s traders also had been altering Libor to benefit their own trading positions as far back as 2005.

Yet British politicians have expressed skepticism that the Bank of England actually put pressure on Barclays to change its Libor rates. Some contend that the conversations were part of officials’ ongoing checks on one of the country’s largest financial institutions at the height of a financial crisis.

“I doubt the Bank of England was leaning on Barclays to lower its Libor submissions,” Mr. McFadden, the British politician, said. “In the end, Barclays already had been doing that for years.”

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