JPMorgan Chase to cough up $2 billion to avoid Madoff fallout

AFP-JIJI

JPMorgan Chase, the U.S. bank used by Bernard Madoff, who masterminded the biggest fraud on record, has agreed to pay about $2.0 billion to U.S. authorities to avoid litigation, press reports said Monday.

Madoff masterminded a massive and long-running Ponzi scheme that came to light in 2008 as the financial crisis gathered speed.

At the time of its collapse in 2008, Madoff Securities claimed it had about $65 billion in client assets, whereas in fact it had only about $300 million.

The fraud ruined many investors and stoked public anger over the causes and consequences of the crisis.

Reports in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, citing people close to the matter, said JPMorgan Chase would announce the settlement this week.

The Wall Street Journal said: “The bulk of the fines are expected to be routed to victims of Mr. Madoff.”

JPMorgan Chase, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, was the main bank used by Madoff for more than 20 years. The sources quoted by the two papers said the bank agreed to pay up to close criminal and civil investigations by federal authorities, which suspected the bank willingly ignored signs that Madoff was operating a fraudulent scheme.

The New York Times said that the expected announcement would bring to $20 billion the total amount paid by the Wall Street bank in the past 12 months to settle various government investigations.

The paper noted that the bank declined to comment on its report but insisted all of its staff had acted in good faith. The various authorities involved also declined to comment.

The New York Times also reported that, in a highly unusual move demonstrating the extreme gravity of the case, the settlement would include a deferred prosecution agreement suspending criminal action, provided that the bank acknowledged the facts against it and changed its behavior.

The expected settlement indicated a new conciliatory stance by the bank, the report said, adding: “Within the bank, there is growing impatience among executives who worry that the scrutiny distracts from its record profits.”

However, the bank was the target of recent bribery investigations by U.S. authorities over its practice of hiring in China the children of people among the country’s ruling elite, the newspaper noted.

In 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

His pyramid scheme was based on using money from incoming investors to pay high returns to long-standing investors in his fund. When the financial markets collapsed and investors withdrew their funds, Madoff was shown to be “swimming naked.”

The liquidator of the Madoff business, Irving Picard, had begun action against the bank, claiming up to $20 billion in damages. But a federal judge and then an appeals court rejected this action, arguing that only investors who had been deceived could launch them.

That procedural issue is now before the Supreme Court.