FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European Central Bank board members have regularly met with banks and hedge funds privately just days before interest rate decisions, when typical practise prohibits them from discussing monetary policy, documents released by the bank showed.
Executive board members, the inner core of the ECB's 25-member Governing Council, met officials from a host of financial firms over the past year, including BNP Paribas, UBS, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs and think-tanks like Brussels-based Bruegel, documents first published by the Financial Times showed.
The ECB's transparency has come under heightened scrutiny since board member Benoit Coeure told a closed-door meeting in May that the bank would front-load its asset purchases during the summer months, sending the euro sharply lower the next day when the remarks were made public.
The ECB has since revamped transparency rules but, in a recent letter to the European Union Ombudsman, President Mario Draghi said that such meetings were an "essential" part of its communication policy and offered an opportunity to share and debate relevant issues.
A detailed calendar of the six-person Governing Council illustrates how wide-ranging the contact was with groups including hedge funds or banks.
Coeure, one of Draghi's close allies, met BNP Paribas on Sept. 4, 2014, between two sessions of a Governing Council meeting which saw the ECB cut its deposit rate.
In total, the French bank met ECB executive board members 12 times in the year to August 2015.
Hedge fund Moore Capital secured one-to-one time with the ECB top executives seven times during that period, including two meetings with Draghi.
Other hedge funds that got access to the most senior ECB officials include the world's largest, Bridgewater Associates, as well as Appaloosa Management and Algebris.
Central bank policy sets the framework for investors, such as hedge funds. Bridgewater's flagship fund, for instance, bets on macroeconomic trends including interest rates.
Although the meetings did not break any rules, several major central banks around the global prohibit officials from such engagements in the week leading up to interest rate decisions.
The European Union's Ombudsman, the EU's top watchdog, earlier this year challenged the ECB's policy of private meetings, asking for measures to prevent incidents like the late release of Coeure's remarks in May.
The ECB has since stopped providing speeches to media under embargo, published new guidelines for speeches and meetings, and agreed to regularly release a list of meetings by board members with a three-month lag.
Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa; Editing by Mark Heinrich