A former Barclays swaps trader, cleared of manipulating a key-interest rate benchmark, declined to testify at his trial, but spent much of it with his head bowed at the back of the court, tweeting about politics, finance and, sometimes, the case itself.
While the lead prosecutor, Emma Deacon, was cross-examining another trader, Stylianos Contogoulas posted: “Yep, I’m sure of it. She is officially the most repulsive, disgusting and dishonest person I have ever seen in my life.”
Contogoulas, 45, and Ryan Reich, 35, were cleared of rigging the London interbank offered rate.
It was a retrial, ordered after jurors at a 2016 trial couldn’t reach a decision on their roles in a conspiracy that included four others at Barclays.
The rate-rigging scandal tainted the industry and forced changes to how the benchmark, used to value trillions of dollars worth of financial products, is calculated.
Financial firms have paid more than $US9 billion ($12 billion) in fines and the public outrage cost Barclays — the first to settle — its chief executive officer.
Still, critics have been disappointed by the lack of prosecutions targeting senior officials. While Contogoulas and Reich admitted they’d requested rates that helped their own trading books, they said they were only doing what their bosses told them to do.
On March 28, while Reich was testifying, Contogoulas tweeted the following:
A lawyer for Contogoulas and a spokeswoman at the SFO didn’t return emails and calls seeking comment. Contogoulas changed his Twitter profile to private on April 4 and deleted several tweets – including the ones quoted in this story – that could have related to the trial.
Contogoulas complained about the fairness of trial coverage in some tweets, and commented on the proceedings in others.
The posts raise questions about rules designed to preserve a fair trial that restricts commentary beyond what is put to the jury and whether social-media activity should be monitored more closely.
“There is very real risk that, if discovered, a running social-media commentary by a defendant could lead to the discharge of the jury and an expensive retrial,” said Neil Swift, a lawyer at Peters & Peters, who wasn’t involved in the case.
“The prevalence of social media makes it very difficult for those concerned in maintaining the integrity of the court process.”
UK laws are quite strict, with judges regularly slapping restrictions on naming individuals, companies and previous prosecutions to preserve the right to a fair trial. With the rise of social media, the courts have tried to keep up with the ever-growing threat.
Two jurors were each jailed for two months in 2013 after one discussed his case on Facebook and another researched the case online and told his fellow jurors. New social-media guidelines were developed in response, but in 2015, a murder prosecution collapsed when a juror “favourited” a tweet by a newspaper about the case.
‘Husband, parent, dog lover, trader’
A Greek citizen, who worked as a computer engineer prior to banking, Contogoulas describes himself to the circa 1,700 followers of his Twitter profile as a “Husband, parent, dog lover, trader. In that order.” The page also features a photo of him in a baseball cap beneath a backdrop of what looks to be a Greek island.
Contogoulas’ posts that appeared to relate to the case took up only a fraction of his Twitter activity during the six-week trial. Most of the time he focused on commodity prices (Silver coming up to a resistance zone around $18.50-$19), the pound (CFTC: Sterling speculative shorts at all-time high) and Brexit (the UK is all sorts of trouble. Brexit will be the end of its economy growth, big problems for decades, more easing.)
He also mentioned family outings to the Disney Store and an April Fool’s Day post about borrowing his brother’s BMW.
As well as musing on current affairs and offering trading tips, Contogoulas “liked” posts from other users that criticised the SFO and Barclays, mostly from a small band of accounts associated with traders who have been sent to jail following the Libor probe.
“David Green to be knighted by all the Libor families,” one user said March 24, referring to the head of the UK fraud prosecutor. “SIR LIE A LOT.”
At the first trial, three former Barclays traders were convicted of Libor rigging and jurors were told a senior rate submitter had pleaded guilty earlier.
The panel couldn’t reach a decision on Contogoulas or Reich.
On the same day Barclays executive Harry Harrison — who appeared as a witness at both trials — testified, Contogoulas wrote: “Lies, lies, just so many lies. Enough already. I really wonder how these people can sleep at night, or look their kids in the eye.”
Contogoulas started his commentary on the first day of the retrial — “So the fight begins again. The truth always wins” — and continued it right up to the end, tweeting this after the verdict on Thursday:
VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!! The truth always wins
— Stelios (@bbki2611)
April 6, 2017