UBS's Adoboli: from model employee to rogue trader

LONDON Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:53pm IST

Former UBS trader Kweko Adoboli arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London, November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Former UBS trader Kweko Adoboli arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London, November 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Kweku Adoboli, convicted of Britain's biggest fraud, had cried when his lawyer read out old appraisals of his performance as a trader at UBS (UBSN.VX) that described him as gifted, hardworking and an outstanding ambassador for the Swiss bank.

During his trial for single-handedly losing UBS $2.3 billion through fraudulent trading, the 32-year-old ex-trader clearly found it painful to look back on his time at the bank.

"UBS was my family," he said in the witness box, weeping. "To find yourself in Wandsworth Prison for nine months because all you did was worked so hard for this bank!"

A warm, friendly man with an open face and distinctive laugh, Adoboli was popular at school, university and work.

Called as prosecution witnesses at his trial, one after another of his UBS colleagues disowned him, denying his claims that they had known how he operated and that it was all part of a wider culture of rule-bending in pursuit of profits.

But his older friends stayed true, coming to support him day after day at his 10-week trial.

For graphic of trader's risk exposures: link.reuters.com/qeh24t

The son of a Ghanaian human resources specialist who worked for the United Nations, Adoboli was born Kwaku in Accra in May 1980, but switched to Kweku at the age of six to sidestep the 'Quack Quack' nickname he had picked up.

The family moved to Israel for his father's work and later to Syria and back to Israel, with a stint back in Ghana during the first Gulf War.

His parents considered the upheavals bad for his education, so at 12 sent him to Ackworth, a private Quaker boarding school in northern England, where he became "head boy", an early sign of talent and leadership skills.

In court, Adoboli said he had learnt great values at the school, even quoting its Latin motto "non sibi sed omnibus", which he translated as "not for self but for all".

Though found guilty of fraud, the jury found him not guilty of the four false accounting charges, for which they needed to be certain he acted for personal financial gain.

He went on to study at Nottingham University, graduating in 2003 in e-commerce and digital business studies.

In the summer of 2002 he did a 10-week summer internship at UBS that went so well that the bank offered him a job for after his studies and made him an ambassador on the Nottingham campus.

After graduation, he started work in the UBS back office in September 2003. Three years later he became a trader on the Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) desk and remained there until his arrest on September 15, 2011.

HOW MANY ZEROES?

"He could explain ETFs to my Nan and she would get it," said colleague Rob Pienaar in Adoboli's 2009 appraisal, commenting on how good he was with clients.

There were still traces of corporate jargon in the way Adoboli spoke in court, perhaps a legacy from past client visits. He spoke often of "contributing to the franchise".

"He is obviously very intelligent. He is plainly very articulate. You may think that he has a lot of natural charm. There are people who speak highly of him," judge Brian Keith told the jury on November 13, during his summing up.

Keith also reminded the jurors of the prosecution case against Adoboli: that behind the charming facade was a reckless gambling addict who had played God with UBS's money in the arrogant belief that he had the magic touch.

Adoboli's own explanation for how he had gone from model employee to rogue trader was totally different. He had started "off-book" trading in October 2008 because it was a way to maximise profits for UBS, and the bank had done very well out of his "innovative" methods until the spring of 2011.

The losses had come only after colleagues had pressured him into flipping from a bearish to a bullish stance on July 1, 2011, he said. Acting against his own convictions had caused him to lose control. He had burnt out and become de-sensitised.

"I had no clarity, I had no energy, I was broken," said a tearful Adoboli, his voice cracking.

After owning up in an email on September 14, 2011, to hiding losses with fictitious bookings, he went back to the office where he had spent his entire working life for the last time. He left under police escort at 3:35 a.m. the next morning. At the time, the losses had been estimated at $1.5 billion.

"At 3:57 a.m. Adoboli's detention was authorized by the custody sergeant, after the arresting officer had politely explained how many zeros there were in $1.5bn," the police said in a statement. (Editing by Will Waterman)

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