Citigroup to be charged by Cuomo, faces SEC probe
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo plans to imminently charge Citigroup Inc (C.N), accusing it of fraudulently marketing and selling auction-rate securities, and destroying documents that had been subpoenaed.
In a letter Friday to the bank, David Markowitz, chief of the state's investor protection bureau, accused the largest U.S. bank by assets of having "repeatedly and persistently committed fraud" by falsely representing to customers that auction-rate debt was safe, liquid and the equivalent of cash.
He also said Citigroup destroyed audiotapes of phone calls on auction-rate debt that were subject to an April 14 subpoena. The bank learned in mid-June about the destruction, but failed to tell Cuomo's office until June 30, the letter said.
Citi said in an e-mailed statement that recycling tapes is generally its practice. It inadvertently recycled a tape subject to the subpoena, but as soon as it learned it had, it stopped recycling tapes. "We reported this oversight to the regulators, and we have fully cooperated with them in all aspects of this investigation," the statement said.
Any settlement of the five-month investigation would require New York-based Citigroup to buy back the affected debt at face value, pay damages to investors, and incur a "significant penalty" for its misconduct, the letter said.
Cuomo's office plans to charge Citigroup under the state's Martin Act, which allows civil or criminal charges.
Cuomo sued UBS AG (UBSN.VX) on July 24 over auction-rate securities, accusing the Swiss bank of a "multi-billion dollar fraud" in steering customers into the debt.
Auction-rate securities have rates that set periodically. The $330 billion market was once considered safe, but part of it remains frozen after a February meltdown in which brokerages abandoned their role as buyers of last resort.
Citi said in the emailed statement that it has acted in the best interests of clients before and since auctions began to fail. "...(T)here is simply no basis for claims to the contrary.
Regulators nationwide also are examining auction-rate sales practices at other financial services companies, including Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Merrill Lynch & Co Inc MER.N and Wachovia Corp <WB.N.
Earlier on Friday, Citigroup said in its quarterly report that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a formal probe, which gives it subpoena power, into the sale of auction-rate securities.
SEC spokesman Kevin Callahan declined to comment. Citigroup said it also is responding to subpoenas from Massachusetts and Texas over the securities.
Citigroup spokeswoman Christina Pretto said the bank is cooperating with the various probes, and has been working with issuers, investors and regulators to create liquidity for holders of illiquid auction-rate debt.
In the e-mailed statement, Citi said, "In addition to our initiatives, we are actively working with regulatory authorities, including the New York Attorney General, to secure the best and fastest route to providing liquidity."
Separately, Citigroup said it is cooperating with government and regulatory requests regarding its Falcon fixed-income and its ASTA and MAT municipal arbitrage funds.
Citigroup in February provided a $500 million credit line to the Falcon funds, and in March invested $661 million in its Municipal Opportunity funds, which accept investments through ASTA and MAT. It moved the Falcon and Municipal Opportunity funds onto its balance sheet because of these commitments.
The bank's shares closed Friday up 18 cents at $18.87 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have fallen 36 percent this year.
(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Carol Bishopric)
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