- By Andy Verity
- BBC Economic Correspondent
A former Barclays teller jailed in connection with a $9 billion interest rate fraud scandal told his father it was “the hardest day of my life”.
“I burst into tears. I felt like I let him down,” Peter Johnson told the BBC, as he tried to calm down.
In an emotional interview, Johnson revealed the devastation not only to his life but also to his family’s by what some MPs now see as a state cover-up. is a series of misdemeanors.
Speaking for the first time since his release, he said that when Barclays took a break from gardening in 2011, he fell into a deep depression and avoided being seen on the street near his home or informed his family. family about their predicament.
In 2012, Johnson was fired by Barclays after more than 30 years of service and faced the risk of being prosecuted by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which could lead to a prison sentence of up to 30 years in the US.
“[When I woke up] I will have about five seconds when I think everything is fine with the world. And then I realized that’s not the case. And I walked around all day with a weight on my chest. I waited up to six hours before starting to self-medicate with alcohol. I had panic attacks,” he said.
“I spent years trying to suppress my emotions because I didn’t want to be upset, bitter, twisted and everything else.
“[But] this is too important to forget – sweep under the rug. People need to know and once they know the whole thing, they can make their own judgment as to whether what people did was wrong or right.”
It was such a psychological pressure on him that when he was charged in the UK and not in the US, he was relieved.
“It was ridiculous. There I was relieved that I was about to be accused. And that was good! I mean, that was stupid. It just showed everything to me at the time. how crazy.”
Johnson’s attorney, Tony Woodcock, now retired but then senior partner of Stephenson Harwood, the renowned white-collar crime expert, considered the prosecution of his former client an insult.
Senior MPs including former Brexit secretary David Davis and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell shared that view after reading a book I wrote exposing the scandal.
“In more than 30 years of practice, I have never come across a case where I have felt so powerless and bullied and so reeked of politics. Hopefully all the bad guys lurking in the mud will discovered,” Mr Woodcock said.
One reason he feels strongly is that Johnson, who worked as a cash trader for Barclays from 1981 to 2011, was the original whistleblower of the interest rate fraud scandal in which banks filed nearly $9 billion in fines and 37 traders and brokers were prosecuted. to “manipulate” Libor and Euribor, two benchmarks that track the cost of borrowing cash.
Between 2007 and 2009, Johnson repeatedly warned the US central bank and the Bank of England about other banks publishing false, low estimates of the interest rates they would have to pay to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars. la once – the so-called “low shadow”.
He tried to publish higher, more honest estimates, but kept getting instructions from his superiors to be more dishonest than any other bank. Leaked audio recordings show that pressure on Johnson to lie came first from Barclays’ board, then from the Bank of England, then from the UK government.
Evidence revealed in the book indicates that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s head of policy, the late Sir Jeremy Heywood, was a senior Whitehall figure who wanted Barclays to lower its Libor estimate of dollar borrowing costs. .
“I think they were wrong,” Johnson said. “But I don’t feel like I have a choice but to agree with them. You’re being asked by the UK government and the country’s supreme financial authority to do something. It’s very, very difficult to do. say, ‘no, you’re stupid!'”
However, four years later, on June 27, 2012, anger against banks for their lack of accountability for the 2008 banking crisis exploded in the media when Barclays was caught by the authorities. US and UK regulators fined a record £290 million for interest rate fraud.
Both Labor and Conservative MPs angrily condemned the 14 unnamed traders – which Johnson knew including himself.
“When something like that happens to a large corporation, there’s usually a scapegoat. And I feel that maybe it’s me.
“Completely right, the public was outraged at what they saw as outrageous in the banking industry. And they wanted the top guys on a pike. And I became one of the heads,” he said. said and added: “I think they could have picked better people.”
Criminal authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, in cooperation with lawyers working for Barclays, have filed charges against him.
He was not prosecuted for undervaluing, but for manipulating rates on a much smaller scale by accepting requests from traders between 2005 and 2007 to very slightly increase or decrease the Libor rate. his.
In 2014, Johnson became the first banker to plead guilty to interest rate manipulation. But that’s only because he feels like everything is working against him and he has no choice. Barclays cut him off from any financial support with his legal fees.
Because of the high costs of defending himself, he feared that he might lose his home, his savings and thus lose the ability to raise his children and grandchildren, even if he was found innocent.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong. But I can see the whole thing going on and it’s not good for me.”
Johnson, a 68-year-old man, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 along with three other Barclays traders.
His first prison was HMP Wandsworth, which he described as “pretty basic, pretty horrible”.
“There’s a shortage of prison officers… and there were times when we weren’t allowed out of our cells, except for 10 minutes to get a meal, for 54 hours at a time.”
He was then transferred to Ford Open Prison, where he decided to improve his fitness by walking around the perimeter of the prison, running 6,000 miles and raising £3,000 for charity. .
The trader demanded that Johnson be jailed because it wasn’t illegal – and didn’t even break any rules. Many of those convictions arose from guilty pleas, delivered under the threat of prosecution in the United States, which the DoJ no longer considers justified.
The UK is currently the only country to make or accept requests that are considered criminal. David Davis, John McDonnell and other senior congressmen, colleagues and attorneys wrote to the Times saying the cases must be sent back to the court.
“In my most optimistic view, I want my plea to be retracted. Basically, I want to restore my reputation. And I want senior people to be held accountable,” Johnson said.
When asked who they were, his answer was simple: “The Board of Directors of Barclays Bank, the Bank of England and the UK government.”
Barclays declined to comment for this article.
A spokesman for the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted Johnson, said its cases are evidence-based. It said nine bank traders knowingly cheated the exchange rate for their own benefit. “Separate juries and the Court of Appeals agreed that they committed a crime.”
A Bank of England spokesperson said: “The Bank fully cooperates with the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the manipulation of Libor, responding to all requests for information and documentation.”
“The government does not seek to influence individual banks’ Libor submissions,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.