NEW YORK (AP) - Two former JPMorgan Chase & Co. traders were accused of trying to conceal the size of the investment bank's $6 billion trading loss last year in criminal conspiracy charges unsealed Wednesday that raised fresh questions about whether Wall Street learned its lessons from the 2008 financial crisis.
Javier Martin-Artajo, 49, and Julien Grout, 35, and their co-conspirators were accused of "artificially increasing the market value of securities to hide the true extent of hundreds of millions of dollars of losses," according to court papers.
The case is related to a surprise loss last year by trader Bruno Iksil, who became known as the "London whale" for the supersized bets he made. Martin-Artajo, who supervised JPMorgan's trading strategy in London, and his subordinate Grout, who recorded the value of the bad investments, are accused of conspiring to hide more than a half-billion dollars of losses in a trading portfolio that ultimately lost more than $6 billion.
Martin-Artajo and Grout were charged in federal criminal complaints with conspiracy to falsify books and records, commit wire fraud and falsify Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
They also were charged separately in an SEC civil complaint. The SEC said the men fraudulently mismarked investments in a multibillion-dollar portfolio known as the Synthetic Credit Portfolio, a hedge against adverse credit events that began to decline in value as credit markets improved in early 2012.
From March to May 2012, following Martin-Artajo's direction, Grout began using prices for the portfolio "deliberately chosen to minimize losses rather than represent fair value. Grout entered these marks into JPMorgan's systems daily, and sent reports to JPMorgan management that understated the SCP's mark-to-market losses," the SEC said.
The two were in the midst of their mismarking scheme in April 2012 when media reports publicized the large size of the portfolio they controlled, the SEC noted. The first trading day after the reports surfaced, the portfolio fell in value by hundreds of millions of dollars, it said. Still, Martin-Artajo directed Grout to disclose to management only $5.7 million in daily losses, a figure Grout put out but replaced later in the day with a loss of $395 million, the SEC said.
In July of that year, JPMorgan announced it would restate its first quarter results for net revenue by $660 million.
The SEC seeks injunctions against the two as well as unspecified fines and restitution of allegedly illicit profits they gained.
A JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment.
Lawyers for Grout and Martin-Artajo, both United Kingdom residents, did not immediately return calls for comment. Martin-Artajo is a citizen of Spain while Grout is a citizen of France. Martin-Artajo mainly worked in London, though he sometimes worked at JPMorgan offices in the United States, including New York.
The London whale charges have engulfed JPMorgan since they were revealed last year, tarnishing the bank's reputation as a stellar risk manager and the favorite of Washington lawmakers. The Justice Department's charges are also hardly the end: The SEC, Congress, the Federal Reserve, federal banking regulators and the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, among others, are also looking into the trading loss.
JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, has weathered the storm; last year, even with the trading loss, the bank pulled in its biggest annual profit ever and its stock is up by a third from its pre-London whale price.
The bank has also gotten rid of top executives and taken back bonuses of some who were responsible. It acknowledged mistakes but has been adamant that it did not try to mislead investors. Authorities have since questioned whether the bank tried to cover up the loss or downplay it to investors and regulators.
Prosecutors also announced that they had agreed not to prosecute Iksil, the trader who allegedly made the bad bets. The deal requires him to cooperate fully with law enforcement.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)