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Finance on Trial: Rules and Justifications in the Libor Case

  • Thomas Angeletti (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In the context of the recent financial meltdown, the financial industry has frequently been accused of being indifferent to the irregular practices of its members or even to be criminogenic. But how do actors of the financial industry respond to such accusations and defend themselves? How do they justify their actions when facing legal charges as well as public blame? This article elucidates these questions through a rare ethnographic case: the first criminal trial of a trader involved in the manipulation of Libor, which took place in London in 2015. Tied to at least $300 trillion contracts, Libor is a benchmark that plays a key role in the financial industry. The paper offers a sociological framework to capture the justifications of financial wrongdoings, arguing that they are structured around three elements: (a) a conception of rules; (b) a narrative; (c) a form of responsibility. I distinguish three justifications: the one of the maker, of the interpreter and of the user. I finally discuss how these justifications contribute to the general tolerance towards white-collar crime.

Résumé

Depuis la crise financière de 2007, l’industrie financière a été régulièrement accusée d’être trop peu regardante sur l’activité de ses membres, voire même d’encourager les pratiques délinquantes. Comment les acteurs de l’industrie financière répondent-ils à ces accusations et tentent de se défendre ? Comment justifient-ils leurs actions face aux poursuites judiciaires et à leur dénonciation publique ? Cet article répond à ces questions à partir d’une ethnographie du premier procès pénal d’un trader jugé pour la manipulation du Libor, qui s’est tenu à Londres en 2015. Le Libor est un taux d’intérêt central dans l’industrie financière, sur lequel sont indexés plus de 300 billions de dollars de contrats. L’article propose un cadre d’analyse sociologique pour saisir les justifications des illégalismes financiers et avance qu’elles sont structurées autour de trois caractéristiques : une conception des règles, un récit, une forme de responsabilité. Je distingue ainsi trois justifications, celle du créateur, de l’interprète et de l’utilisateur. Finalement, je montre comment ces justifications contribuent à la tolérance générale envers la délinquance en col blanc.

Zusammenfassung

Im Zusammenhang mit der Finanzkrise von 2007 ist die Finanzindustrie regelmäßig beschuldigt worden, den unlauteren Tätigkeiten ihrer Mitglieder wenig Beachtung zu schenken bzw. Kriminalität hervorzurufen. Wie antworten die Mitglieder der Finanzindustrie auf diese Beschuldigungen und wie versuchen sie sich zu verteidigen? Wie begründen sie ihre Handlungen gegenüber juristischen Anschuldigungen und ihrer öffentlichen Verurteilung? Diese Fragen beantwortet der Aufsatz dank einer Ethnografie des ersten Strafprozesses im Libor-Skandal, bei dem 2015 ein Trader in London vor Gericht stand. Der Libor bezeichnet den Referenzzinssatz im Interbankengeschäft, der Verträge im Wert von mehr als 300 Trillionen Dollar indexiert. Der Aufsatz liefert eine soziologische Analyse, die Begründungen von Finanzunregelmässigkeiten begreifen helfen soll und verweist darauf, dass ersteren drei Charakteristika zugrunde liegen: ein Regelkonzept, eine Erzählung, eine Art der Verantwortung. Ich unterscheide zwischen drei Begründungen, jene des Schöpfers, des Interpreten und des Benutzers. Schließlich zeige ich, wie diese Begründungen zu einer allgemeinen Toleranz der White-Collar-Kriminalität beitragen.

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