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UPDATE 2-South Africa watchdog seeks penalty against banks for FX rigging
February 15, 2017 / 3:31 PM / 7 months ago

UPDATE 2-South Africa watchdog seeks penalty against banks for FX rigging

(Adds comments from banks, central bank, detail from statement, writes through)

By Tiisetso Motsoeneng

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 15 (Reuters) - South Africa’s competition watchdog has recommended fines against banks including Citigroup , Nomura and Standard Bank equal to 10 percent of their annual revenues for rigging the rand currency, it said on Wednesday.

The Competition Commission said it had concluded an investigation into whether banks colluded to coordinate their trading activities when giving quotes to customers who were buying or selling currencies.

It did not say if the fines should relate to the global revenues of the banks in question or just their South African business and could not be reached for further comment.

The probe found that from at least 2007, traders at these banks had an agreement to collude on prices for bids, offers and bid-offer spreads for spot trades involving the rand and the U.S. dollar, the Commission said.

“They also created fictitious bids and offers, distorting demand and supply in order to achieve their profit motives,” the Commission said in a statement.

It did not give any detailed examples of how it had come to this finding, but said the banks had a general agreement to collude and had used instant messaging, phone conversation and meetings to coordinate their activities.

The Commission launched the investigation in April 2015, joining a global clampdown that has led to dozens of traders fired and big banks fined around $10 billion in total for rigging the level of Libor and other forex benchmarks.

KEY MILESTONE

The Commission, which investigates anti-trust practices, said it had referred the case for prosecution to the Competition Tribunal, which holds hearings on anti-trust matters before making a finding which parties affected can then appeal to South Africa’s Competition Appeal Court.

“The referral of this matter to the Tribunal marks a key milestone in this case as it now affords the banks an opportunity to answer for themselves,” said Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele in a statement.

The Tribunal declined comment.

Other banks named in the case were Investec, JP Morgan, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Group , Commerzbank AG, Standard New York Securities Inc, Macquarie Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch , ANZ Banking Group Ltd, Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays Africa (Absa), part of the Barclays Plc.

“It should be noted that the Competition Commission has not sought any penalties against Absa,” Barclays Africa said without giving any explanation. It said it would cooperate with the investigation.

Investec also said in an emailed statement it would cooperate, but added: “Unfortunately at this stage we still do not have further detail with respect to the nature of the investigation and are thus not able to comment on the matter.”

Standard Bank declined to comment.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) said it saw the allegations in a serious light.

“The SARB will allow the legal processes now initiated to run their course, and will continue to monitor developments closely to inform any action that we may need to embark upon in accordance with our mandate and jurisdiction,” the central bank said in a statement. (Additional reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Holmes)

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