James Moore: Watchdog has a point about 'hero' Hannam

  • @TheIndyBusiness

Outlook The king of the miners has lost his crown, at least for now.

Scalps don't come much bigger than Ian Hannam, who, as global chairman, of equity capital markets for JPMorgan, has been one of the biggest deal makers in the City.

He likely will be again in future after he has finished fighting the Financial Services Authority's (FSA) attempt to impose a £450,000 fine for alleged market abuse.

To many in the Square Mile, Mr Hannam is something of a hero who brought billions of pounds worth of business to London and – in making it the world's natural resources centre – changed the face of the FTSE 100

The world of natural resources, though, is a wild one, occupied by an assortment of state actors (many less than savoury), oligarchs, the occasional legitimate entrepreneur and a number of out and out chancers.

Success within it requires, at the very least, a strong stomach.

Perhaps that is why those from outside this world have more of a jaundiced view of Mr Hannam, seeing him as the sort of person who might have sailed just a bit too close to the wind.

They were largely keeping their own counsel yesterday as a battery of heavy guns lined up behind the banker to portray the watchdog (boo) as evil incarnate and to all but cannonise (hooray) Mr Hannam.

All of them also gushed about his integrity, which the FSA didn't actually question. Nor did it allege that anyone actually profited from information that he put in two rather embarrassing emails to a couple of unnamed Kurdish businessmen about Heritage Oil, its prospects of striking the stuff, and the chance that it might get bought.

The FSA said Mr Hannam has been careless rather than crooked and that this isn't good enough for a man in his position.

It has a point, one that has been endorsed by the independent Regulatory Decisions Committee, which includes some rather senior lawyers among its members and has been quite willing to strike down proposed FSA fines in the past.

Whether it was right not to do so in this case, and whether the law allows the FSA to take this stance, is about to be tested.

The option was there for Mr Hannam to simply take his medicine and walk away. After all, a £450,000 fine might look to be a harsh penalty for a couple of cases of careless chatter, but to someone with his resources it amounts to little more than a speeding ticket would to those of more conventional means.

Instead he will take case to the independent Financial Services Tribunal. And if he loses there, he could still go to the Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court.

It isn't as if those under the regulatory cosh don't have options.