It is safe to say, especially to an American audience, that the LIBOR scandal has been one of the quieter scandals that’s been going around – but the impact has been global. (And to non-Americans, this has been basting the front pages of many newspapers and magazines.) As Matt Taibbi succinctly put it:
This is the world’s biggest banks stealing money that would otherwise have gone toward textbooks and medicine and housing for ordinary Americans, and turning the cash into sports cars and bonuses for the already rich. It’s the equivalent of robbing a charity or church fund to pay for lap dances.
Okay, but what’s actually been going on? Daily Finance has a pretty decent infographic (featuring the Matt Taibbi quote at the end), and the New York Times has a somewhat more text-based explanation.
To distill the two above links, Barclays did two things: manipulated the LIBOR through employees to bolster their own profits, and coordinated the submission of lower interest rates during the 2007-9 financial crisis to make themselves appear to be in far better shape than they truly were.
Matt Taibbi’s full article is a great read for Americans looking to get caught up on the more grisly details. And it’s definitely looking like American officials were complicit in permitting this to happen! (As well as the British government.)
There is legal work – indictments in the U.S., and a probe in the U.K. – going on, but only time will tell if these are more constructive than the usual slaps on the wrist that are handed out for financial crimes.