Former JPMorgan FX trader challenges credibility of testimony of fellow “co-conspirators”

Maria Nikolova

The testimony of former traders Jason Katz, who worked at Barclays and BNP Paribas, and Christopher Cummins, who worked at Citigroup, is challenged by Akshay Aiyer.

About a month after Akshay Aiyer, a former JP Morgan Forex trader, was convicted of conspiring to fix prices and rig bids in Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African (CEEMEA) currencies, he filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, for the declaration of a mistrial or a new trial.

On December 20, 2019, Aiyer submitted an 87-page Memorandum in support of his motion with the New York Southern District Court. The document, seen by FinanceFeeds, includes a raft of arguments in favor of the defendant’s motion, including challenging the credibility of the testimony provided by the Government’s key witnesses. These are Aiyer’s alleged co-conspirators – former traders Jason Katz, who worked at Barclays and BNP Paribas, and Christopher Cummins, who worked at Citigroup.

Aiyer argues that the testimony of Katz was “incredible when given and thoroughly undermined during cross-examination”. Regarding the testimony of Cummins, Aiyer argues that to the extent Cummins’ testimony was credible at all, it was wholly exculpatory of Aiyer and completely lacking in substance to support the contention that Aiyer had agreed with members of the Rand Chat Room to fix prices and rig bids.

Put otherwise, according to Aiyer, neither of the Government’s principal witnesses who were tasked with the critical exercise of making sense of the chats and trading activity, was worthy of belief. This, Aiyer says, is grounds for a new trial.

In particular, Katz’s testimony on his own trading in the ruble is said to raise concerns about credibility. Katz testified that he believed that he was a capable, skilled trader in the ruble. On one occasion, he even suggested that he was in the “major leagues” of ruble trading. On cross examination, however, he was confronted with irrefutable documentary and audio evidence of himself discussing his own lack of skill in the ruble:

“any day i dont blow up in rub[le] is a good day. it is basically sticking your finger in the air and guessing. i work it off the basket but still just dumb luck.”

Then Katz finally admitted: “I could not compete [with Mr. Aiyer].”

Aiyer argues that Katz’s testimony began at one end—that he was a skilled ruble trader—and ended on another—that he was not a competitor in the ruble at all.

Cummins’ testimony about February 23, 2012 is said to be illustrative. On the subject of his, Williams,’ and Aiyer’s pricing on the transaction at issue, Cummins expressly testified, “We were not pricing independently.” When questioned about the same transaction on cross examination, Cummins testified repeatedly to the very opposite – that every trader priced the transaction independently and and the there was no coordination at all.

Whereas Katz testified that the Rand Chat Room members agreed to fix prices and rig bids, he never attempted to explain what this meant, and, like Mr. Cummins, testified on numerous occasions that he did not coordinate his trading with Mr. Aiyer or that he and/or Mr. Aiyer acted independently.

Katz is also said to have given nearly incomprehensible explanations that some of his improper conduct with various individuals was done pursuant to an agreement, some identical conduct was merely “one or two off” but not pursuant to an agreement, and other identical conduct was done pursuant to an agreement that supposedly terminated in Katz’s mind, although general wrongful conduct continued.

Further, Aiyer argues that the Jury was “likely misled by the prejudicial content of the Government’s summations”.

On rebuttal summation, the Government displayed to the jury 37 sound bits, such as:

‘Don’t touch ZAR.’ … ‘I just got paid.’ … ‘Don’t make JR.’… ‘I think between us we can run ZAR’ … ‘You should introduce me to the ZAR mafia.’ … ‘Salute to the first coordinated ZAR effort’ … ‘chat of trust.’

According to Aiyer, the only conceivable aim of such a strategy was “to exploit the inflammatory nature of the language”.

Aiyer notes the overwhelming majority of these sound bites – 24 of 37 – had nothing to do with actual trading activities that the Government contended constituted price fixing or bid rigging. They related, instead, either to vague plans that the testimony showed unequivocally the Rand Chat Room participants never put into effect or to activities that the Government conceded, and the Court instructed the jury, were not price fixing or bid rigging.

Given the above-mentioned reasons, Mr Aiyer requests that the Court grant his Rule 29 motion and enter a judgment of acquittal and/or grant his Rule 33 motion and order a new trial as to any part of the charge remaining.

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