(BBG) From a $126 Million Bonus to Jail: The Fall of a Star Trader

Deutsche Bank, always Deutsche…

(Bloomberg) — Christian Bittar was once among Deutsche
Bank AG’s highest-paid traders, a math whiz who earned a near 90
million-pound ($126 million) bonus in 2008 alone. Now he’s
sitting in a U.K. prison.
The 46-year-old former star banker pleaded guilty in a
London court on March 2 to conspiring to rig the interest-rate
benchmark known as Euribor. He’s in custody and will be
sentenced after a related trial ends this summer. A court lifted
reporting restrictions on his plea Thursday.
It’s a seminal moment for U.K. prosecutors in their six-
year investigation. Bittar, famous for receiving multi-million
dollar bonuses, is one of the highest-profile traders to be
convicted in the global rate-rigging probe.
“It wouldn’t be right to comment on this at the moment,”
David Savell, Bittar’s lawyer at Locke Lord LLP in London, said
by telephone Thursday.
When the scandal first engulfed the business world after
the global financial crisis a decade ago, the initial focus was
on banks, which paid about $9 billion in fines for manipulating
the London interbank offered rate and its euro counterpart. Then
prosecutors started homing in on the traders behind the
behavior, including big shots such as Bittar and former UBS
Group AG trader Tom Hayes, who was the first person convicted in
the U.K. probe.
Deutsche Bank, for one, was fined $2.5 billion by global
regulators in 2015 for failing to prevent attempts to rig
benchmark rates and Bittar featured prominently in the penalty
notices. Identified only as “Manager B” in the U.K. Financial
Conduct Authority’s settlement notice and “Trader Three” by the
U.S. Department of Justice, he was accused of colluding on
Euribor submissions.
But Bittar was already famous in London’s financial
district long before his role in the rate-rigging scandals
became widely known.
His legend loomed large after he made a fortune for
Deutsche Bank during the upheaval of 2008, by betting on short-
term interest rates. One trading strategy involved wagering the
cost of borrowing in euros for three and six months would rise
more quickly than one-month rates. That paid off after Lehman
Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed that September and banks
refused to lend to each other for all but the shortest periods.
That year alone Bittar earned a 90 million-pound bonus.
But he wasn’t always wealthy. Growing up in Senegal, Bittar
showed an early aptitude for math and attended one of the top
French Grandes Ecoles universities, according to two people with
knowledge of his upbringing, who didn’t want to be identified
talking about Bittar’s history.
After college he joined Societe Generale SA in Paris as a
quantitative analyst, rising to the role of trader, before
Deutsche Bank poached him for its London office. He later moved
to Singapore with the German lender.

Mr. Basis Point

Called Mr. Basis Point by his colleagues at the bank
because of his trades on minuscule changes in short-term
interest rates, he was famous for alternating between fad diets
and eating binges. One week he would be on an egg-only regimen
and the next be back to eating junk food and downing Cokes.
But even after he became a wealthy trader, he still lived
in a relatively modest London house — by banker standards —
with his wife and children. His car wasn’t flashy and colleagues
said sartorial elegance wasn’t his top priority. He’d be at work
every day by 6:30 a.m., focused and intense.
Despite his outsize bonuses, on several occasions he
lobbied his boss to get a better pay deal. The trader, who has
been described as soft-spoken, threatened to quit and join a
hedge fund if his demands weren’t met, according to a former
colleague.
But the end came quickly for Bittar amid the mounting rate-
rigging probes in the U.S. and U.K.
He was fired in December 2011, as Deutsche Bank severed its
ties with the trader to “best protect” itself amid the
regulatory scrutiny. Internal emails seen by Bloomberg show that
Bittar was likely read terse notes from human resources over the
telephone that thanked him before being told his employment was
being terminated.
As a proprietary trader he was entitled to a percentage of
the profits he made for the bank. When he was fired amid
criminal and regulatory probes he lost about 40 million euros in
unvested stock. After he was let go, he briefly joined hedge
fund BlueCrest Capital Management LLP.
He was issued a penalty notice by the FCA in 2014 with a
proposed fine of 10 million pounds. The penalty, including a ban
from the industry, was put on hold pending the outcome of the
criminal proceedings. A spokeswoman for the FCA declined to
comment on its status Thursday.
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