The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing Royal Bank of Canada of taking part in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of illegal futures trades to earn tax benefits linked to equities. In its complaint, the CFTC claims the Toronto-based lender made misleading and false statements about “wash trades” between 2007 and 2010, which allowed affiliates to trade between themselves in a manner that undermined competition and price discovery on the OneChicago LLC exchange. This electronic-futures trading exchange is partly owned by CME Group Inc.
The alleged scam is said to have involved RBC officials working with two subsidiaries on the selling and buying of futures contracts that give the right to sell the stock later on at certain prices. CFTC said that this removes the risk of RBC sustaining any losses on the investments, while locking in the tax breaks.
Also, according to the CFTC, RBC designed certain instruments related to the transactions that were traded on OneChicago. The transactions, which involved narrow-based indexes and single-stock futures, were used to hedge the risks involved in holding the equities. CFTC says that the Canadian bank tried to cover up the scam and even provided misleading and false statements when CME started asking questions.
RBC contends that CFTC’s allegations against it are “absurd” and the lawsuit “meritless.” The bank also claims that the trades in question were completely documented and reviewed, as well as monitored by the exchanges and CFTC.
CFTC Enforcement director David Meister said that the securities action shows that the regulator will not balk at bringing charges against those that illegally exploits the futures market for profit. The CFTC has been under pressure to get tougher on its oversight of the futures industry in the wake of MF Global Holdings Ltd.’s failure last year. The demise of that securities firm resulted in an approximately $1.6 billion shortfall in client funds. Measured by the futures contracts’ national dollar amount, this case against RBC is the biggest wash-sale lawsuit the CFTC has ever brought.
Meantime, RBC says that the CFTC’s allegations against it are “absurd” and the lawsuit “meritless.” The bank has issued a statement claiming that the trades in question were completely documented and reviewed, as well as monitored by the exchanges and CFTC.
The US regulator is seeking injunctions against additional violations and monetary penalties of three times the monetary gain for each violation or $130,000/per violation from 10/04 to 10/08 and $140,000/violation after that period.
CFTC Deals Out Royal Pain, Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2012
RBC Sued by US Regulators Over Wash Trades, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 3, 2012
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