The Serious Fraud Office is gearing up for a crunch trial today as it heads to court in the latest instalment of the Libor rigging saga.
The under-pressure fraud squad's war on financial misconduct will continue at Southwark Crown Court, with the trial of five former Barclays bankers accused of US-dollar pegged Libor rigging.
The SFO will be closely scrutinised as, out of 13 individuals charged with offences related to Libor rigging since 2012, only one has been found guilty – former UBS and Citigroup trader Tom Hayes.
Its decision last month to drop an investigation into Forex manipulation because of a lack of evidence and the recent acquittal of businessmen James Sutherland and Jack Flader for an alleged boiler room scam has raised further questions. And in January, six former brokers were acquitted of accusations that they had conspired with Hayes to manipulate Libor.
"Given these recent and very public failures, the SFO will have to restore some credibility on its decision to prosecute cases such as the upcoming third Libor trial," said Bambos Tsiattalou, founder and partner at Stokoe Partnership Solicitors.
Home secretary Theresa May is believed to be keen to fold the SFO into the National Crime Agency while, in August last year, head of the SFO David Green said that he thought the future of the agency was in doubt.
However, in February, Green’s contract was extended until 2018, so it is unlikely that the SFO would be disbanded before then.
Ruth Harris, a partner in the fraud department at Hodge, Jones and Allen, told City A.M. that the upcoming trial would be "fundamentally important" for the SFO, given that it had stressed the significance of dealing with the Libor scandal "and so far it hasn't been able to".
Today's trial sees former Barclays traders – Jonathan Mathew, Stylianos Contogoulas, Jay Merchant, Alex Pabon and Ryan Reich – stand accused of rigging the US-dollar pegged version of Libor.
Each count of conspiracy to defraud carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
For the eight counts of conspiracy to defraud that Hayes was found guilty of, he was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison, although this was later reduced to 11 years on appeal.
The trial is expected to go on for around 12 weeks. It had been due to start in February but was delayed when Barclays revealed previously unseen evidence shortly before the trial's original start date.
“If the SFO fails to convince a jury of guilt they may have to re-think whether to expend further public money on the Euribor trials set for 2017,” commented Neil Swift, a partner at Peters & Peters.
“For the SFO to consider their efforts against rate rigging to be a success, they will need more than just the Hayes verdict and sentence.”