FSA Fines e-mail Snooper

August 12, 2008Andy No Comments »

Jennifer Hughes, Financial Times

UK – An IT technician has been fined £85,000 by the City watchdog for insider trading after he accessed confidential e-mails and used the information to bet on a fall in Body Shop’s share price.

The fine is the first insider dealing case to be concluded in almost two years and comes as the Financial Services Authority increases its efforts to clamp down on the practice. The watchdog launched its first criminal prosecution for the offence this year and more are expected.

The FSA said John Shevlin was an IT worker for Body Shop when he put on a short position equivalent to 80,000 of the chain’s shares on January 10 2006. He closed it out a day later for a profit of £38,472 after the shares fell following the retailer’s reports of a worse-than-expected Christmas season. The trade involved contracts for difference, instruments that allow users to benefit from exposure to a stock for a relatively small downpayment. Mr Shevlin borrowed £29,000, more than his annual salary, to put on the trade. The FSA said he had accessed e-mails between senior executives about the results.

It is rare for the regulator to fine individuals outside the financial sector. ‘Where individuals circumvent these protections they should expect to face significant financial or other sanctions,’ said Margaret Cole, director of enforcement at the FSA. ‘Mr Shevlin deliberately set out to obtain highly sensitive and valuable information. He abused the trust placed in him by his employers and misused his technical skills to gain a financial advantage over other market users.’

Mr Shevlin had traded twice before in Body Shop CFDs, both just a day before results news. The January 2006 announcement had been due on the 13th but was brought forward two days, a closely guarded fact, because of the poor news.

Lawyers said the case, which relied largely on circumstantial evidence, underlined the FSA’s determination to fight market abuse. Two more criminal cases are pending. Observers said their importance will depend on who they are against.

Ian Mason, a partner at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, said: ‘This was a good case, and will likely deter the casual insider dealer but we need to see whether the upcoming cases are this sort of softer target or whether they’re the City pinstripes and handcuffs. The FSA really needs one of those to deter the hardened insider dealers.’

The last market abuse case involving insider dealing was the FSA’s £750,000 fine of Philippe Jabre, a star hedge fund trader, in August 2006.

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