April 19, 2018 / 8:30 AM / 10 months ago

Morgan Stanley seeks new court in Italian derivatives case

ROME (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley (MS.N) on Thursday asked to have a lawsuit against it for 2.7 billion euros (2.35 billion pounds) in damages thrown out of an Italian administrative court, an Italian judge said.

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of financial firm Morgan Stanley is pictured on the company's world headquarters in New York, U.S. April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

At the opening of the trial in Rome, the U.S. investment bank the other defendants asked a three-judge panel at the Court of Accounts, which rules on abuses of public funds, to reject the case in an acknowledgement that the judges do not have jurisdiction, Marco Fratini, one of the judges, said.

The defendants, who deny any wrongdoing, maintain the issue should be reviewed by a civil court.

The U.S. investment bank maintains that derivatives contracts signed with Italy’s Treasury that led to losses belong in a civil court, not the Court of Accounts, which rules on abuses of public funds, sources close to the case said before the hearing began.

If the Court of Accounts accepts the claim, the state would then have three months to bring the case before a new tribunal. At the end of Thursday’s hearing, the head of the panel of magistrates, Piera Maggi, said a ruling would be made within 45 days.

The Morgan Stanley derivative transactions were made between 1995 and 2005 and were terminated in December 2011 and January 2012, Morgan Stanley said in a securities filing.

The interest-rate derivatives were meant as a form of insurance for the Italian government, one of the most heavily indebted in Europe, in the event that market rates rose. Instead, after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, interest rates plunged, and the state incurred large losses on its derivative positions as it was able to borrow more cheaply in the bond markets.

The Court of Accounts prosecutors argue that some contracts negotiated with Morgan Stanley were speculative in nature and contained termination clauses that were overly advantageous to the bank.

Morgan Stanley says the claim is groundless, and in August, 2016, the bank rejected a settlement proposal from an Italian prosecutor for a one-off payment, a securities filing showed.

The case includes claims worth 1.18 billion euros against two senior officials - former public debt chief Maria Cannata and Treasury chief administrator Vincenzo La Via - and former finance ministers Domenico Siniscalco and Vittorio Grilli.

These defendants also challenged the jurisdiction of the trial on Thursday, Fratini said.

A Treasury spokesman said in July that it had full faith in the work undertaken by its managers and trusted that the court could clear up these matters.

Siniscalco and Grilli declined to comment.

Compensation orders by the Court of Accounts can be appealed. Once confirmed, they are legally enforceable through asset seizures, if necessary.

writing by Giselda Vagnoni; editing by Steve Scherer, Jason Neely and Jane Merriman

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