A British court has forced the Wall Street Journal to backpedal after publishing the names of traders and brokers the government plans to charge with manipulating benchmark interest rates.
A court injunction forced the paper to take down a report on the government's investigation of Libor manipulation that named roughly two dozen people who could be charged as co-conspirators. The authorities obtained the injunction against the paper and David Enrich, its European banking editor, on Thursday night, threatening them with fines, imprisonment and asset seizure if they publish the names "in any way whatsoever" and ordering them to delete the online version of the article.
Dow Jones, the Journal's publisher, called the court ruling "a serious affront to press freedom" and vowed to fight the injunction. However, the injunction was filed after the paper had gone to press in the U.S. and Asia. As a result, the Journal's U.S. readers received the original storyincluding the names of about two dozen possible conspiratorsin the morning print edition. The report was absent from the European edition of the paper, which went to press afterward.
Readers curious about the identities of the co-conspirators were able to find them on other websites; many online news outlets declined to heed the court's warnings against "any third party" and published the names and details that were the subject of the U.K. court's injunction. Lists of the alleged co-conspirators, which include former employees of Citigroup (NYSE:C), HSBC, JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Rabobank and others, were available on the websites of the International Business Times, the blog Zero Hedge and the website ValueWalk.
The Journal's report, which was based on unnamed sources, said prosecutors at the U.K.s Serious Fraud Office were still drawing up charges and had not finalized their list of people it intends to charge. The U.K. government has already brought criminal charges against former Citi and UBS trader Tom Hayes and two former brokers at R.P. Martin Holdings. In the U.S., UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland have already pleaded guilty to criminal charges over manipulating the benchmark rate.
In the U.K., injunctions forbidding media outlets to release information are much more common than in the U.S., due in large part to the U.K.'s stricter privacy and libel laws. News Corp. (NWS), the parent of the Journal and Dow Jones, is itself enmeshed in a legal scandal involving phone hacking by one of its British newspapers.