Accused 'Master Fraudster' Goes on Trial for $2.3 Billion UBS Loss

Kweku Adoboli

LONDON -- A senior trader at the Swiss bank UBS was a "master fraudster" who lost his bank $2.3 billion, imperiling its very existence, through risky deals and deceit in a bid to improve his status, bonus and job prospects, prosecutors said Friday.

Prosecution lawyer Sasha Wass told a British jury that Kweku Adoboli lied to his employer, invented clients and breached the bank's safeguards against high-risk trading between 2008 and 2011.

Kweku Adoboli Adoboli was a senior equities trader with the bank in London when he was arrested in September 2011 after UBS discovered irregularities in trading records. The 32-year-old has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud and two counts of false accounting.

The fraud wiped $4.5 billion, or 10 percent, off the share price of Switzerland's biggest bank, Wass said.

"Like most gamblers, he believed he had the magic touch," Wass said as she began laying out the case on the first day of the trial. "Like most gamblers, when he lost he caused chaos and disaster to himself and all of those around him."

She said Adoboli, who earned 360,000 pounds ($585,000) in salary and bonuses in 2010, "faked bookings, he created false accounts and conducted himself as a master fraudster, deliberately and systematically deceiving and defrauding the bank which employed him."

"He was risking the very existence of the bank by gambling its resources, ultimately for his own benefit," Wass said.

The $2.3 billion loss hurt the bank's efforts to restore its image after a Swiss government bailout and a tax evasion investigation in the United States.

Wass said on Sept. 14, 2011, Adoboli walked out of his office, saying he had to go to the doctor. Later that day he sent his employers an email admitting his deceit. He was arrested the next day.

Dressed in a gray suit, Adoboli sat on a bench with his lawyers in London's Southwark Crown Court as an overflowing international press contingent filled the glass-enclosed dock where defendants usually sit.

Wass described Adoboli, the son of a Ghana diplomat and the former head boy at an expensive English boarding school, as a reckless gambler who by the summer of 2011 was at risk of losing the bank $12 billion.

"He was putting the very existence of the bank at risk," Wass said.

He was gambling that he would eventually reverse his losses. But, Wass said, in September 2011 "his system crashed like a car hitting a wall at high speed."

Adoboli began working at UBS in its back office, where he became expert in the bank's accounting and control systems. Prosecutors say he later used that knowledge to cover up his fraud. He was promoted to trader in late 2005 and, Wass said, rapidly became "a trusted and admired member of the bank's trading team."

His remuneration rose almost tenfold between 2005 and 2010.

"He was making large profits for the bank - or so they thought," she said.

The case is scheduled to last eight weeks.

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