How Kweku Adoboli's gilded life came crashing down

Ghanaian-born, British-educated City trader 'lived and breathed the markets', but police uncovered a chaotic existence devoted to covering up more than two years of illicit trading

Until 14 September last year Kweku Adoboli was known only in City circles, a rising star of the finance industry. Still only 31, the Ghanaian-born, British-educated trader had a cavernous loft apartment near his office, a £250,000 annual bonus and the respect – if not always affection – of his colleagues.

All that was to change after a phone call lasting just over two minutes, when a very quiet Adoboli was pressed by a UBS accountant, William Steward, to explain "strange" entries on his trading record. "I'll come back to you in a few minutes," Adoboli promised.

Instead, he walked out of the bank's headquarters on Finsbury Avenue, on the northern edge of the City, telling colleagues he had to see a doctor.

At his flat, Adoboli composed what his trial would come to know as the "bombshell email" in which he admitted a series of off-book trades, hidden from his managers and colleagues.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and the shit storm that will now ensue," the email ended. "I am deeply sorry to have left this mess for everyone and to have put my bank and my colleagues at risk."

That email was sent at 2.30pm. By 3.35am the next morning he was under arrest.

If Adoboli did not yet realise the scale of his predicament, it might have dawned on him when another officer had to tell the custody sergeant filling out the relevant forms how many zeros there are in a billion.

It was an abrupt and dramatic interruption to a seemingly gilded life. While average annual GDP per head in Ghana remains less than £1,000, a fraction of that in the UK, Adoboli's father was a senior United Nations official and the family travelled widely.

Adoboli lived in Israel and Syria before being sent as a boarder to the almost £20,000-a-year Ackworth school in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. A popular and hard-working pupil, he left to study digital business at Nottingham University and, in September 2003, joined UBS as a graduate trainee.

After two years as an analyst in the bank's back office, Adoboli made the relatively unusual move to the trading floor, soon joining the desk dealing in exchange traded funds (ETFs), bundles of stocks, commodities or other assets that can be traded like ordinary shares. Success came quickly: within eight years his annual income of £30,000 rose to £360,000.

Adoboli was known as a dedicated trader who put in long hours, although he could be brusque with colleagues. A more junior trader on the ETFs desk, Christophe Bertrand, told the trial he found Adoboli "unfriendly, unpleasant, superior", with a rule that he should never be asked the same question twice.

Adoboli's leisure interests were unexceptional: travel, photography, fine wine. His neighbours, or those that knew him, spoke of a courteous, charming man, albeit one occasionally prone to throwing loud parties.

But once the City of London police's Economic Crime Directorate started to dig, they uncovered – without the help of Adoboli, who refused to answer a single question or even say, "no comment" – a singularly chaotic existence.

Adoboli's long hours and regular work from home was often devoted to complex efforts to cover up more than two years of illicit trading, initially profitable but then increasingly reckless as he tried to recoup losses.

Parallel to this, Adoboli was obsessively playing the market on a private spread betting account. In the year up to his arrest he lost £123,000. "This would have been the lion's share of his disposable income for the year," said Detective Chief Inspector Perry Stokes, who led the investigation. "He was a man who lived and breathed the markets."

Although the prosecution sought to portray Adoboli as a man intent only on making his name and increasing his bonus, the trial judge, Brian Keith, said he believed this was secondary to boosting UBS's profits. But Keith too lamented the "spectacular" fall from grace of a young man he described as privileged, highly intelligent and very charming.

The scenes at Southwark crown court were all a long way from Tema, an industrial town east of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, which has become a popular suburb for affluent commuters. This is where Adoboli's family home, a large cream detached house in a leafy part of the town, sits nestled in a close-knit neighbourhood, punctuated by churches and small shops.

Adoboli's father, John, now retired, told a Ghanaian newspaper he was "heartbroken" at his son's arrest, having brought up his children to be "God-fearing and to appreciate decency". No family members have spoken since.

But one friend, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian that although he sympathised with Adoboli, he should take responsibility for his choices. "The Kweku I know never seemed to be lacking in credibility or integrity, but he has made certain choices and he has to take responsibility for those," he said.

This view chimes remarkably with that of the police. Stokes urged people not to see Adoboli as someone led astray. Stokes said: "He was the star. He believed he would reach the height at UBS. He is one of the most accomplished fraudsters I have seen in my time in the force. This is not someone who made a mistake. This is someone who has chosen the path he has gone down."

Contributors

Peter Walker and Afua Hirsch in Accra

The GuardianTramp

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