* FCA “pleased” as ruling overturns Court of Appeal decision
* Decision could have ramifications for seven similar cases
* Macris disappointed with “technical interpretation” of law
* Regulatory efficiency trumps individual reputation-lawyer (Adds lawyer comments, details)
By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON, March 22 (Reuters) - Britain’s markets watchdog did not wrongfully identify a former JPMorgan executive in the “London Whale” scandal, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a landmark case that endorses a regulatory policy of speedy corporate settlements.
The majority ruling by the UK’s highest court overturned a Court of Appeal decision that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) identified Achilles Macris, without naming him, when it fined JPMorgan 138 million pounds ($172 million) in 2013.
It could also have ramifications for seven other cases in which traders say they were criticised in FCA penalty notices but not given the chance to contest findings before these were published. However, each case turns on its own facts.
“(This) will do little to check the perceived tendency on the part of the regulator and firms to reach swift settlements in which the underlying facts are not subject to rigorous challenge, at the expense of procedural rights for individuals caught up in regulatory investigations,” said Hannah Laming, a lawyer at Peters & Peters.
But the ruling is a relief for the FCA, which faced either the prospect of publishing blander penalty notices or longer and costlier investigations that allowed individuals to make legal representations before publishing the facts of a case.
“The FCA is pleased that there is now a final ruling and is considering the impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on other third party (prejudice cases) currently before the tribunal,” a FCA spokeswoman said.
The case hinges on the legal definition of identification. Individuals who are identified in penalty notices have a right to respond before notices are published, can refer adverse comment to a tribunal and ask the FCA to disclose relevant material. So FCA enforcement notices often refer to individuals as “Trader A” or “Manager B” to illustrate wrongdoing.
Former Deutsche Bank trader Christian Bittar is among those to argue he was also wrongfully identified when the FCA fined the German bank in a rate rigging investigation in 2015. Bittar’s lawyer said he was still considering the judgment and declined to comment further.
Macris was the former chief investment officer of JPMorgan’s synthetic credit portfolio team in London, which ran up $6.2 billion in losses in 2012 in the “London Whale” trades, so-called because of their magnitude. The bank was fined $1.0 billion by U.S. and UK regulators for management failings.
The Greek national, who has spent more than four years trying to clear his name, argued that the FCA’s reference in its JPMorgan penalty notice to “CIO London management” referred to a particular individual and not to a body of people.
Macris said he was “naturally disappointed” and that the FCA had won its case on a technical interpretation of the law.
The case turned partly on whether the principle of identification should be broadened beyond the use of proper names or unique job titles, as financial services employees can be more easily identified by peers than ordinary people.
Defence lawyers say the regulatory policy of publicly criticising unnamed individuals in speedy corporate settlements means people who face later investigation are often already defined by a process that can be unfair or unbalanced.
“The judgment is a triumph of regulatory efficiency over individual reputation,” said Harvey Knight, a lawyer at Withers Worldwide.
$1 = 0.8009 pounds Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Susan Thomas