September 12, 2019 / 3:52 PM / 4 days ago

Deutsche Bank is first to settle bond-rigging lawsuit, amid federal probe

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank AG will pay $15 million to resolve claims it conspired to rig prices of bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, becoming the first of 16 financial services companies to settle litigation by investors.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Deutsche Bank is pictured in London, Britain July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

The German bank did not admit wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, which also requires that it bolster its antitrust compliance procedures and cooperate with the investors.

Court approval is required. The settlement was disclosed in filings late Wednesday in Manhattan federal court.

Investors including Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella accused several of the world’s largest banks of exploiting their market dominance to overcharge for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds from Jan. 1, 2009 to Jan. 1, 2016, and secure more profit for themselves.

The civil case began after a published report last year said the U.S. Department of Justice had opened a criminal probe into possible price-fixing in the bonds.

According to Wednesday’s filings, Deutsche Bank agreed in May to share information with the investors about other banks accused of price-fixing, in connection with its having received leniency in a related federal criminal antitrust case.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Deutsche Bank spokesman Troy Gravitt said the bank was pleased to settle with the investors.

Lawyers for the investors called Deutsche Bank’s settlement an “ice-breaker” that could bring other defendants to the negotiating table.

“This agreement is an important first step, but just a first step, toward greater accountability on Wall Street,” Torsella said in a statement.

According to an amended complaint on Tuesday, the defendants underwrote $3.97 trillion, or 77.2%, of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in the seven-year period.

Deutsche Bank’s 6.95% market share was the fourth-largest, trailing Barclays Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and UBS Group AG.

On Sept. 3, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said investors could sue Deutsche Bank and four other banks, calling chat room transcripts involving their traders “direct evidence of a conspiracy to fix prices” and a “rare smoking gun.”

Rakoff dismissed claims against the other 11 defendants, but Tuesday’s complaint was intended to address his concerns.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee more than half of U.S. mortgages, and have been in a conservatorship since taxpayers bailed them out in September 2008.

On Sept. 5, the White House announced a plan to return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the private sector. It faces an uphill fight to convince Congress to act before the 2020 election.

The case is In re: GSE Bonds Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-01704.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker

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