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Trader gets $1 million penalty for metals manipulation

By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former portfolio manager for Moore Capital Management agreed on Monday to pay the U.S. futures regulator $1 million to settle charges that he attempted to manipulate prices of palladium and platinum futures contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Christopher Louis Pia attempted to manipulate the settlement prices of palladium and platinum futures contracts from at least November 2007 until May 2008 while working for Moore Capital, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said.

He had engaged in a trading practice known as "banging the close", the CFTC said.

The order bans Pia from trading CFTC-regulated products during the closing period of the markets and from trading CFTC-regulated products in platinum and palladium. It also requires him to distribute a copy of the regulator's order to current investors and to current and future employees.

"Christopher Pia is pleased to have settled with the CFTC in order to put this matter behind him. Pia Capital, his current firm, is committed to abiding by the CFTC Order and to maintaining the highest level of compliance," Pia Capital said in a statement.

A Moore Capital spokeswoman could not be reached immediately for comment. Moore Capital, one of the biggest hedge funds investing in commodities, managed around $15 billion as of June.

The act of "banging the close" occurs when a trader acquires a substantial position leading up to the closing period, and then offsets the position before the end of trading to try to manipulate closing prices.

In this case, Pia entered market-on-close buy orders that were executed in the last ten seconds of the closing period for both contracts in an attempt to exert upward pressure on the settlement prices of the futures contracts.

A year ago, the CFTC settled similar charges of attempted manipulation of platinum and palladium futures settlement against Moore Capital Management, Moore Capital Advisors, and Moore Advisors.

"As demonstrated by today's action, the Commission will not hesitate to impose significant sanctions on such traders," David Meister, the CFTC's enforcement chief, said in a statement.

Meister said in May that he would use his "bigger arsenal of weapons" to crack down on fraud and manipulation in the marketplace.

He said his group would keep cracking down on schemes that prey on retail investors -- until recently the hallmark of the agency's enforcement division -- but would also focus on investigating broader industry and over-the-counter fraud and manipulative schemes.

Earlier this month, the CFTC finalized a rule that will give it more muscle to crack down on market manipulation and fraud.

(Additional reporting by Frank Tang in New York; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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