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To maximize its effectiveness, when the group circulated a revision of the codebook in March 2008, it employed a one-week training period to learn the new codes and agreed to use old codes to permit a ramp-up to the updated version.
And while the offenses do indeed sound pretty indefensible – inflating spreads, manipulating benchmarks, outright lying about markups, etc – it’s apparent that what really rankled the regulators who parsed the 120,000 pages of evidence was that BNP’s forex traders clearly had a gas. But since that’s no fun, BNP sales staff and traders set up a covert line of communication, so that when customers inquired with salespeople about their markups, the sales staff could jump online and get a phony quote from the trader. What’s odd about these schemes is how strangely meta they are.
We’ve already seen plenty of profanity-laced, cheekily named chatrooms (“The Mafia,” e.g.) where forex traders colluded to maximize their profits at the expense of clients. One trader, for instance, who organized a group called “ZAR Domination” whose sole purpose was to jerk around the price of the South African rand, or ZAR. Appropriately enough, they called this forum the “money printing chat room.” Those who dwelt there called each other “voleur,” which is French for thief. The traders certainly had a chuckle when they dubbed themselves thieves and gave their chatrooms names like “the Cartel.” But the cute lingo happens to be perfectly accurate.
As he wrote to one prospective member: “[W]e got a little cartel really brewing … “We make boat loads $$$$ here,” one employee declared. A salesperson (“Salesperson 2”) asked Trader 20 whether “that’s including 2 pips on both,” to which Trader 20 confirmed the two-pip markup. You get the sense that there was subconscious purpose to archly adopting the language of criminal conspiracies: to obscure the guilt of actually carrying out true criminal conspiracies.
One unseemly practice involved obscuring trade markups, the extra cash BNP traders kept for the bank in addition to the spread between bid and ask prices.