Business

JP Morgan fined £26m over interest rate cartel

JP Morgan Image copyright Reuters

The Swiss Competition Commission (Comco) has fined several European and US banks for rigging benchmark interest rates and related products.

JP Morgan Chase received the largest fine, 33.9m Swiss francs (£26.7m), for colluding with Royal Bank of Scotland over the Swiss franc Libor rate.

Barclays was fined 29.8m Swiss francs for its part in a cartel to rig euro interest rate derivatives.

The fines, for collusion between 2005 and 2010, totalled 99m Swiss francs.

"It is a big sanction based on an in-depth investigation," said Vincent Martenet, President of Comco.

"It was a lengthy process, but we had good co-operation from the banks," he said.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, several international banks were investigated and fined for colluding to influence key interest rates including Libor, the rate at which London banks lend to each other overnight and its European equivalent, Euribor.

Such rates reflect the confidence banks have in each other's financial health and are used to determine the value of millions of trades, as well as borrowing by households and companies.

Even very slight shifts in those rates can result in significant changes to banks' profits.

Image copyright PA

In the case of the collusion between JPMorgan Chase and Royal Bank of Scotland cartel, RBS was granted immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel to the authorities.

JPMorgan and RBS had tried to distort the pricing of interest rate derivatives denominated in Swiss franc between March 2008 and July 2009, Comco said.

Future vigilance

Although Comco's investigation referred to activity before 2010, Mr Martenet said the Swiss authorities would remain vigilant.

"It's important for us to send this message to the banks: this particular problem might be finished but they have to understand if there is a distortion in other circumstances, we are there, we will intervene. It's important even if this concrete behaviour belongs to the past."

Barclays, RBS and Societe General were fined a total of 45.3m Swiss Francs for colluding over the setting of Euribor, the interbank interest rate at which eurozone banks lend, between 2005 and 2008. Deutsche Bank received immunity over its participation in that cartel for communicating it's existence to Comco, the authorities said.

The investigation continues into the roles of BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, HSBC, JPMorgan and Rabobank in the Euribor market. Mr Martenet said there was still room for an amicable settlement with those banks.

There were smaller fines for Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and RBS related to the bid-ask spread on Swiss franc interest rate derivatives in 2007 and for Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and RBS for their role in Yen Libor and Euroyen Tibor cartels.

"These fines represent the tail-end of regulatory action against corporates, who will be glad that finally these long-running conduct issues will be put to bed," commented Hannah Laming, business crime specialist at the law firm Peters & Peters.

"Regulatory attention is now focused squarely on using civil and criminal enforcement against individuals to drive cultural change in these organisations, and it is likely there is still much activity to be seen in this space in 2017 and beyond."

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