For any banks looking to do the same, officials describe their complaint against the Swiss bank as a "how to guide for bid-rigging and securities fraud."
The SEC alleges that during the 2000 to 2004 time period, UBS’s fraudulent practices and misrepresentations undermined the competitive bidding process and affected the prices that municipalities paid for the reinvestment products being bid on by the provider of the products. Its fraudulent conduct at the time also jeopardized the tax-exempt status of billions of dollars in municipal securities because the supposed competitive bidding process that establishes the fair market value of the investment was corrupted. The business unit involved in the misconduct closed in 2008 and its employees are no longer with the company.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, UBS played various roles in these tainted transactions. UBS illicitly won bids as a provider of reinvestment products, and also rigged bids for the benefit of other providers while acting as a bidding agent on behalf of municipalities. UBS at times additionally facilitated the payment of improper undisclosed amounts to other bidding agents. In each instance, UBS made fraudulent misrepresentations or omissions, thereby deceiving municipalities and their agents.
“Our complaint against UBS reads like a ‘how-to’ primer for bid-rigging and securities fraud,” said Elaine C. Greenberg, Chief of the SEC’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. “They used secret arrangements and multiple roles to win business and defraud municipalities through the repeated use of illegal courtesy bids, last looks for favored bidders, and money to bidding agents disguised as swap payments.”
According to the SEC’s complaint, UBS as a bidding agent steered business through a variety of mechanisms to favored bidders acting as providers of reinvestment products. In some cases, UBS gave a favored provider information on competing bids in a practice known as “last looks.” In other instances, UBS deliberately obtained off-market ”courtesy” bids or arranged “set-ups” by obtaining purposefully non-competitive bids from others so that the favored provider would win the business. UBS also transmitted improper, undisclosed payments to favored bidding agents through interest rate swaps. In addition, UBS was favored to win bids with last looks and set-ups as a provider of reinvestment products.