Imprisoned whistleblower banker shares their story

During an interview with the BBC, Peter Johnson, a former Barclays trader linked to a $9 billion interest rate rigging scandal, recounted the immense emotional challenge he faced when revealing his involvement to his father, describing it as “the most difficult day of my life.” Overwhelmed with feelings, Johnson tearfully expressed his sense of letting his father down.

During a heartfelt interview, Johnson opened up about the profound impact that the interest rate rigging scandal had on both his personal life and his family. He described the situation as a state-level cover-up, which some members of Parliament now recognize, followed by a series of grave miscarriages of justice.

After being sentenced to a four-year prison term for “manipulating” interest rates, Johnson was released in 2018, having served two years of his sentence. Subsequently, it was revealed that he was among the initial whistleblowers who exposed the scandal.

In his first public statement since being released, he shares that following his placement on gardening leave by Barclays in 2011, he spiraled into depression.

During this time, he avoided being seen in the vicinity of his residence and chose not to disclose his predicament to his family.

After serving over 30 years at Barclays, Johnson was dismissed from his position in 2012. Subsequently, he confronted the potential of prosecution by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which carried the threat of up to 30 years of imprisonment in the United States.

“I would experience a brief moment, lasting about five seconds, upon waking up, where I believed everything was alright in the world. But then, the harsh reality would hit me, and I would carry the weight on my chest throughout the day.

“After awakening, I would briefly experience a fleeting moment, around five seconds, where I believed that everything was fine in the world. However, reality would quickly set in, and I would carry a heavy burden on my chest throughout the day. The approaching six o’clock hour would fill me with anticipation, as that was when I would turn to alcohol as a means of self-medication. Panic attacks became a distressingly regular part of my life,” he revealed.

“I spent years trying to suppress my emotions because I didn’t want to become resentful or embittered. However, this issue is incredibly important and cannot be ignored or hidden away. It is crucial for people to be informed, and once they have all the facts, they can make their own judgments about the morality of people’s actions,” he emphasized.

The psychological strain had reached such levels that when he learned he would be charged with a crime in the UK instead of the US, he experienced a sense of relief.

Reflecting on the situation, he acknowledged, “It might sound absurd, but I genuinely experienced a sense of relief upon learning that I would be facing charges. It’s rather ironic when you stop and think about it. It underscores the immense turmoil I was going through at that time.”

Tony Woodcock, Johnson’s attorney who was a senior partner at renowned white-collar crime specialists Stephenson Harwood at the time, regards his client’s prosecution as a flagrant injustice.

Prominent MPs, including former Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have come to adopt this perspective after reading a book I authored that unveils the scandal in its entirety.

Mr. Woodcock reflects on his extensive career, stating that throughout his over 30 years of practice, he never encountered a case where he felt as powerless and subjected to bullying, with such a strong presence of political maneuvering. He expresses hope that all the malevolent forces concealed beneath the surface will eventually be exposed.

A significant factor behind his firm conviction is that Johnson, who served as a cash trader at Barclays from 1981 to 2011, was the initial whistleblower in the interest rate rigging scandal. This scandal resulted in substantial fines amounting to nearly $9 billion for the banks involved, and 37 traders and brokers faced prosecution for their involvement in manipulating the Libor and Euribor benchmarks, which monitor the cost of borrowing cash.

Between 2007 and 2009, Johnson diligently notified both the US central bank and the Bank of England on multiple occasions regarding the practice of other banks falsely publishing low estimates of the interest rates they were required to pay when borrowing significant sums of money, a deceptive technique known as “lowballing.”

Despite his attempts to publish higher and more truthful estimates, Johnson faced persistent instructions from higher authorities to align his reports with those of other banks.

Leaked audio recordings reveal the immense pressure placed on Johnson to engage in dishonest practices, with the pressure originating from the board of Barclays, followed by the Bank of England, and ultimately from the UK government.

The evidence presented in the book unveils that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the late head of policy for then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was among the senior figures within Whitehall who advocated for Barclays to reduce its Libor estimates concerning the cost of borrowing dollars.

Johnson reflects on his predicament, stating, “I believed they were mistaken, but I felt compelled to comply with their demands. When you’re being instructed by the UK government and the highest financial institution in the country to take a certain course of action, it becomes exceedingly challenging to reject their directives and say, ‘No, I refuse!'”

However, after four years, on June 27, 2012, the public’s long-suppressed anger towards the banks over the lack of accountability for the 2008 banking crisis erupted into the media spotlight. This eruption occurred when Barclays was slapped with a record-breaking fine of £290 million by regulators in the US and UK for its involvement in interest rate rigging.

Amidst intense public outcry, Members of Parliament from both the Labour and Conservative parties expressed vehement condemnation towards 14 traders involved in the scandal. Johnson, who was well aware that he was among those unnamed individuals, found himself directly implicated in the scrutiny.

He expressed, “The public’s anger was justified as they were rightfully outraged by what they perceived as excessive conduct within the banking industry. They sought accountability and wanted individuals to be held responsible. Regrettably, I became one of their targets.” He further commented, “While I understand their anger, I believe there were other individuals more deserving of their focus.”




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By Ryan

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