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Top prosecutor in benchmark-rigging probes to leave Justice Department

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mythili Raman, the top criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, is planning to leave the agency next month, wrapping up a year overseeing high-profile investigations into global market manipulation.

Raman said in an interview this week that the agency has made great strides in holding individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds. She said she is hopeful more traders will face trial in the United States for their roles in international benchmark-rigging schemes.

The 17-year Justice Department veteran served for a year as the acting chief after her predecessor, Lanny Breuer, left the agency last year.

"We have a lot to be proud of," Raman said, referring the department's probe into the manipulation of foreign exchange rates and a related investigation into the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) interest rate benchmark that led to charges against six people in the past year.

She said she is hopeful that the Libor defendants, currently all overseas, will see the inside of a U.S. courtroom.

She said her division has worked to improve relationships with foreign counterparts conducting related investigations, a move that could ease the way for the defendants to be extradited to the United States.

Raman said she has not yet decided what her next career move will be but that she anticipates returning to the agency down the line. Most of her predecessors have gone to private practice, where they defend white-collar criminal cases.

A Senate panel on Thursday is scheduled to consider President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Breuer, Leslie Caldwell, a former federal prosecutor who helped build the case against Enron Corp. The nomination is likely to be confirmed, but the timing of a full Senate vote is unclear.

MOMENTUM FOR LIBOR PROBES

The sprawling Libor investigation, which stretches from North America to Asia and has shaken the financial industry, has so far resulted in 10 banks and brokerages being fined a total of $6 billion and charges brought against 13 people.

Authorities have begun looking at whether traders at some of those banks had advance knowledge of customer orders and tried to manipulate benchmark foreign-exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments. Twenty traders have been fired, suspended or put on leave as part of those probes.

"We've had prosecutors go full bore on these cases, and (leadership) willing to push," Raman said. "We've shown there is momentum."

Since Raman took over as acting head of the Justice Department's criminal division, she has announced charges against three former traders at Dutch lender Rabobank accused of manipulating the Yen Libor benchmark, three former brokers at the brokerage firm ICAP over similar allegations, and a deferred prosecution agreement with Rabobank under which the bank admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a $325 million criminal penalty.

She also has overseen the prosecution of more than 10 people

charged with violating a foreign bribery law, including some cases that Raman said remain under seal.

'RESET BUTTON'

Raman said she thinks U.S. prosecutors have built up trust with their UK counterparts, after a series of stumbles.

That relationship hit a low at the end of 2012, when the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) arrested former UBS trader Thomas Hayes, surprising U.S. prosecutors who were preparing to charge him for his alleged role in the Libor manipulation scheme.

Tensions appeared to re-emerge last week, when the UK office charged three former Barclays traders over Libor rigging, including one who had been given immunity by the Justice Department.

Raman said the UK's action should not be read as a setback for the countries' relations.

"In absolute reality, the relationship with the SFO has been incredibly productive in the last eight or nine months," Raman said. "We hit the reset button."

"That doesn't mean we are going to defer to each other, but we are coordinating. We trust the partnership," she added.

The collaboration doesn't mean they won't charge the same defendants, but it means they set rules for sharing information, make sure they are not sending duplicate requests to defendants, and are on the phone with each other a lot, Raman said.

After she leaves the agency on March 20, Raman is looking forward to her first trip in years where she can leave her Blackberry behind and enjoy a vacation with her husband and 9-year-old twins.

"We're going to Disney World," she said.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha in Washington; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Amanda Kwan)

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