Libor bank probes at advanced stage - EU antitrust official

BRUSSELS, March 7 Thu Mar 7, 2013 7:22pm GMT

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BRUSSELS, March 7 (Reuters) - Probes into banks and brokers suspected of fixing benchmark Libor and Euribor interest rates are at an advanced stage, a senior EU antitrust official said on Thursday, accelerating the investigation process.

Up until now banking sources have said the process was at a preliminary stage and could take quite some time before the Commission even brings charges.

The European Commission has been looking into illegal manipulation of the two rates, including those for the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc, for the last 18 months, but has yet to take any action unlike financial regulators.

Such rates are used as references for hundreds of trillions of dollars' worth of financial contracts, ranging from credit cards to complicated derivatives transactions.

"These cases are in an advanced stage," Eric van Ginderachter, director of cartels at the Commission, told an IBC Legal conference. He did not provide details.

Last month, sources told Reuters that EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia is pushing to issue decisions on the cases by the end of the year. Banks found guilty of breaching EU fines could face fines up to 10 percent of their global revenues.

U.S. and UK regulators have fined three banks to date - RBS , Britain's Barclays and Switzerland's UBS - a total of $2.6 billion for allowing traders to game Libor interbank rates in a global scam.

Barclays, HSBC, RBS and SocGen have said they are cooperating with EU regulators. Dutch group Rabobank said EU regulators have asked for information.

Watchdogs in Japan, Canada, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands are also scrutinising the issue.

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