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Trader Questioned Over World's Biggest Bank Fraud Case - 2002-02-07


U.S. authorities have questioned an American currency trader of an Irish-owned bank about an alleged fraud of $750 million. The matter is being called one of the world's biggest bank fraud cases since the 1995 collapse of Britain's Barings Bank.

Ireland's biggest bank has said it has lost three-quarters of a billion dollars in what it calls "suspected fraudulent" foreign currency transactions by a U.S. trader.

Lawyers for the trader, John Michael Rusnak, say he has been questioned by American federal authorities in the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore. No charges have been filed against him as the investigation continues.

Mr. Rusnak worked for Allfirst Financial, the U.S. subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks.

In Dublin, the company said the losses had been a hard blow, but the bank would survive. Its stock price fell by more than 16 percent on Wednesday.

The case has brought back memories of the billion-dollar collapse of British banking giant, Barings, in 1995.

Nick Leeson was a Singapore-based currency trader who was convicted of fraud in the Barings case and served six and a half years in prison. He told British radio Thursday the banking industry still needs better safeguards.

"I know how basic the checks should have been done to catch me. And if they haven't been put in place, I think that's shocking. It's not a great advertisement either for the bank or the banking industry as a whole," he said.

The Irish Central Bank has said it is sending a team of investigators to Baltimore to work with U.S. bank regulators on the case. The central bank says that despite the probe, there is no reason to doubt Allied Irish's financial solvency.