LONDON: Kweku Adoboli, the UBS trader accused of gambling away $2.3bn, sobbed in a London court yesterday, saying he had spent every waking hour working for the bank he considered his “family”.
Taking the witness stand for the first time in his trial at Southwark Crown Court, Adoboli denied his actions were fraudulent. The 32-year-old said Switzerland’s biggest bank was “everything I lived for” and he was only ever trying to generate profits for them at a time when the global financial crisis plunged the markets into turmoil.
He became emotional as he recounted his struggle to keep his massive $50bn “book” of trades afloat. “It is not fraudulent: It is finding a way to do your job,” he said.
Adoboli stands accused of faking hedge deals, leaving UBS exposed to huge losses when the market turned against him.
He denies two charges of fraud and two of false accounting in the period between October 2008 and September last year.
Characterising his relationship with the bank, he said: “UBS was my family, and every single thing I did for them. If I wasn’t so proud to work for UBS... I would never have put in so much effort. To find yourself in Wandsworth Prison for nine months because all you did was to work so hard for this bank,” he said of his time in custody following his arrest, before he broke down in tears.
Before beginning his defence, Adoboli was charged with two further counts of false accounting, to which he also pleaded not guilty. He first broke down with emotion when his lawyer noted that his father, now retired, had been at the court to support him since the start of the trial on September 10. While at university in England, he secured an internship with UBS, which then offered him a job.
He rose to join the exchange traded funds (ETF) desk in September 2006, working under desk chief Mike Foster and alongside trader John Hughes. “The book was so big and so complex the two of them just couldn’t do it on their own,” he said.
Under Foster, profits grew from $5m in 2005 to $65m in 2007. When he left that year, it was a “huge blow”, Adoboli said. Hughes was left as the senior trader, with just Adoboli alongside him.
Adoboli said it might seem “crazy” that as a 26-year-old with just five years’ experience he had been in charge of a $50bn portfolio but “that’s how it was”. “Our book was massive. A tiny mistake leads to a huge loss.
“After about six months, they realised, to be fair, we were struggling,” Adoboli said. “We were just losing so much money it was mental. “The markets had gone into the crisis that we are ultimately still in. We needed help.” Welling up, he said he had been forced to miss his grandmother’s funeral because “during this period, you couldn’t leave the desk”.