SEC to JPMorgan: You'll Have to Admit Guilt in London Whale Mess

<b class="credit">Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images</b>
Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images

Here's the way regulatory actions against big American banks typically play out: the Securities and Exchange Commission levels charges of foul play, the banks pay a fine, and there's no admission of guilt.

For decades, it's been a way for both sides to claim victory, but all that may be about to change.

The New York Times is reporting that the SEC will pursue "civil charges" and an "admission of wrongdoing" from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) over last year's infamous "London Whale" trading incident.

The so-called London Whale was a trader named Bruno Iksil, who worked in JPMorgan's London office and who was at least partially responsible for a botched derivatives trade that cost the superbank more than $6 billion. Iksil was dubbed the London Whale because of the outsize derivatives positions he made in the marketplace.

The trading scandal broke last spring, and since then JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has spent much of his time and energy cleaning up the mess: almost completely revamping the bank's upper management, and even fending off a leadership challenge this year that directly resulted from the London Whale incident.

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As part of Dimon's cleanup effort, a committee was commissioned which investigated the botched trades and the bank's response to them, and issued a report this past March.

Some of the phone calls and emails looked at appear to be damning, and the SEC is trying to determine whether or not anyone at the bank "falsified records to hide the losses" that Iksil himself said were "getting idiotic."

The change in tenor at the SEC is almost undoubtedly the result of its new chairwoman, Mary Jo White. White was sworn in this past April, and has decades of experience as a federal prosecutor and securities lawyer. Ironically, she's recused herself from this particular case because she at one time represented JPMorgan in her work as a securities lawyer.

A settlement in the case is expected this fall. According to the Times, though the SEC is pursuing an admission of guilt, no top executives are expected to be charged.

So while the SEC may finally be finding its teeth, it's not clear yet how sharp they're going to be.

Motley Fool contributor John Grgurich owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase.

Originally published