City banker gets record jail term for insider trading

The FSA claims more victims - although the costs of its investigation were higher than the insider dealers' profits...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Another blow to the reputation of the Square Mile: ex-Dresdner banker Christian Littlewood has been jailed for three years and four months for orchestrating an insider trading ring with his wife and a friend, the longest sentence ever given for a crime like this. The FSA is clearly still on a mission to show its teeth, and greedy bankers deserve all they get. But it does make us wonder how rife this kind of practice must be in the City, and as such why we don't see more prosecutions of this type. That said, the fact that the FSA's two-year investigation apparently cost £700,000 - which is more than the nefarious trio's ill-gotten gains – shows how difficult this stuff is to police…

The Littlewoods' scam wasn't exactly complicated: Christian, the husband passed insider info to Angie, his wife, who passed it on to a friend, who then bought and sold shares on the basis of said info. The husband, chivalrously, apparently tried to blame the whole thing on his wife, but the court wasn't having any of it and decided (partly on the basis of text messages recovered from his phone) that he was the ringleader. In total, the FSA identified about 51 dodgy trades, yielding gross profits of about £1m, although the trio only seem to have ‘fessed up to eight episodes, with total profits of £590,000.

Of course, it's true that prosecutions like these aren't just about the case in question - by going to court and ensuring a tough sentence, they should also have a deterrent effect on others tempted to follow the same route. And let's face it - this kind of thing must go on all the time in the City. This is a particularly egregious example, admittedly - but given the number of people involved in a big M&A deal, it's incredibly tough to stop the odd bit of insider info leaking, or to trace a leak when it happens.

The investigation by the FSA - whose whole existence is under threat, lest we forget - provides ample proof of that. This looks to have been a fairly clear-cut case, involving three people who clearly weren't criminal masterminds (sending instructions by text message? duh) and relatively small profits. Yet it's taken the FSA two-and-a-half years to bring this case to court, at a cost to the taxpayer of about £700,000.

One thing's for sure: it will only add to the general public's distaste for the City. There's already a general perception that all these bankers have their snouts in the trough; cases like this only serve to strengthen that.

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