Failed hedge fund Amaranth Advisors and two traders have been accused of manipulating the natural gas markets by federal regulators and may face $291 million in penalties, according to The New York Times. The Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund shuttered its doors last year after it lost $6 billion.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s action is the first time the group has used the authority Congress granted it two years ago.
Amaranth and Brian Hunter, the former head energy trader, has denied wrongdoing and have 30 days to respond and persuade the commission not to levy fines and have them empty out profits.
Joseph Kelliher, the commission’s chairman, said the agency found that Amaranth, Hunter and another trader, Matthew Donohoe, profited when natural gas prices fell on the New York Mercantile Exchange over three months last year. The company sold “an extraordinary” amount of natural gas contracts in the last 30 minutes of trading before expiration, the commission said. Meanwhile, Amaranth had made bets that natural gas prices would decline.
The suggested fines are $200 million for Amaranth, $30 million for Hunter, and $2 million for Donohue. The commission also proposes that the hedge fund pay back more than $59 million in what the agency deemed as ill-gotten profit, plus interest.
Last week, Hunter was seeking a restraining order against the FERC, alleging that the agency exceeded its power by trying to bring enforcement action against him.
Additionally, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil complaint in federal court against the hedge fund and Hunter a day before the agency made their announcement. In contrast to the agency, the commodities commission accuses Amaranth of attempting to affect prices.
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