(STL.News) – Peter Volino, a former vice president at Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Financial Services LLC (ICBCFS), pleaded guilty to a criminal antitrust charge for his involvement in a bid-rigging conspiracy for certain financial instruments, the Department of Justice announced.
Volino admitted that, from at least as early as May 2012 until at least August 2014, he and his counterparts at other broker-dealers conspired to submit rigged bids to borrow pre-release American Depository Receipts (ADRs). Volino’s plea is the fourth in the investigation; Banca IMI Securities Corp., ICBCFS, and former Banca IMI executive Larry Meyers previously pleaded guilty.
“The guilty plea announced today represents the culmination of a years-long investigation by the Division’s prosecutors and our FBI partners into collusion that infected bidding for pre-release ADRs,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The Division is committed to detecting, rooting out, and prosecuting antitrust crimes affecting our financial markets and to holding personally accountable executives who try to get ahead by violating the antitrust laws.”
Worldwide, thousands of publicly traded companies list their shares of common stock only on foreign stock exchanges. Most U.S. investors are unable to purchase or sell such foreign shares. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, however, permits four U.S. depository banks to create ADRs, which represent foreign ordinary shares and can be traded in the United States. Through the purchase and sale of ADRs, U.S. investors are able to gain exposure to — including the ability to receive dividends from — companies whose common stock is listed only on foreign exchanges.
Volino pleaded guilty to conspiring to borrow pre-release ADRs from U.S. depository banks at artificially suppressed rates. During the conspiracy, a U.S. depository bank began using an auction-style process for pre-release ADRs and invited ICBCFS and other broker-dealers to submit competitive bids for rates to borrow ADRs. In response, Volino and his co-conspirators conspired to suppress competition between them in an effort to artificially increase their profits under the auction-style process. On at least 24 occasions, ICBCFS, through Volino, reached an agreement with one or more co-conspirators as to the bids they would submit to U.S. depository banks. On many occasions, the conspirators agreed that they all would submit the same bid. Volino and his co-conspirators reached these agreements using, among other means, private chat rooms and text messages.
“As demonstrated through this multi-year investigation, which has led to four plea agreements, the FBI is committed to rooting out corruption and fraud,” said Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Today’s plea is the result of our continuous, persistent efforts to protect competition in the financial market and identify those engaged in fraudulent conduct.”
A criminal violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum fine of $1 million for individuals. The fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
The Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division, the FBI’s International Corruption Unit, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office are conducting the investigation into bid rigging in the market for pre-release ADRs. Anyone with information in connection with this investigation is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section at 202-598-4000