Risk-taking bankers should foot a multimillion-pound fine for the Libor rate-fixing scandal and not expect taxpayers to pay the bill, Vince Cable has said.
The Business Secretary spoke out as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was braced for criminal charges and a £500 million penalty for its role.
The 81% state-owned bank is likely to announce the settlement with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and American regulators. But it is under sustained Government pressure to meet the fine from cash from its bonus pot amid reports traders are still set for payouts worth hundreds of millions of pounds for 2012.
"Obviously it doesn't make any sense to pass on the costs of past misbehaviour on to the customers or to the taxpayer," Mr Cable told ITV's Daybreak. "There's got to be individual responsibility here," he said - renewing a warning to the bank made by Chancellor George Osborne earlier this week.
"It's one thing to fine an institution, but an institution is made up of people who in many cases better themselves by behaving badly and we've got to sort out where ethical misbehaviour leads to sanctions. It is bizarre to us people as to why activity that most people would believe is fraud is not pursued."
The lender is one of about 20 banks being investigated over involvement in manipulating the rate, which governs the price of more than 500 trillion US dollars' worth of loans and transactions around the world, including household mortgages.
RBS's fine is set to dwarf the £290 million settlement agreed by Barclays last year over its involvement.
On Tuesday it emerged RBS investment banking boss John Hourican, who was widely expected to shoulder the blame for RBS's role in the interbank rate-rigging affair, is to step down. He is reported to be in line for a parting gift of a year's salary in lieu of notice, worth around £700,000, but had been asked by the bank's board to forfeit the £4 million he is owed in shares.
Asked whether the Government could ensure that the taxpayer does not foot the bill for any fine imposed on RBS, Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "I am not aware that any announcements have been made by the regulators. If any were made, the Government has made its position very clear.
"Banks should take responsibility, and if there are any non-UK fines, those should be the responsibility of the banks and not the taxpayer. I think that is what you can expect to see if we are in that situation."