by Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union antitrust regulators on Thursday fined Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC and Natwest 344 million euros ($390 million), closing a major chapter in a high-profile investigation.
UBS avoided a €94 million fine by alerting the European Commission to the cartel, which was set up via a chat room known as “Sterling Lads”.
HSBC received the largest fine of €174.3 million, followed by Credit Suisse at €83.3 million, Barclays at €54.3 million and Royal Bank of Scotland at €32.5 million.
Barclays, HSBC and RBS – known as NatWest since rebranding – have admitted wrongdoing for a reduced fine.
NatWest said the misconduct occurred about a decade ago in a single chat room, involved a former employee and that its culture and controls have changed drastically since then.
UBS said it was the first bank to detect potential misconduct and was pleased to have the matter resolved.
Barclays, Credit Suisse and HSBC declined to comment.
Some of the world’s largest banks have been collectively fined more than $11 billion by US and European regulators since allegations first surfaced around 2013 that traders were manipulating the world’s largest financial market. Dozens of merchants have been suspended or fired.
A recent investigation focused on spot forex trading of the G10 currencies, the world’s most liquid and traded currencies, which include the US dollar, the British pound and the euro.
The commission said that traders exchanged sensitive information and sometimes coordinated trading plans and strategies through online chat rooms.
The European Union already sanctioned some of the same banks for similar behavior in 2019 in a settlement involving chat rooms called “Three Way Banana Split”, “Only Marge”, “Essex Express” and “Semi Grumpy Old Men”.
“Today we complete our sixth investigation into the cartel in the financial sector since 2013 and conclude the third phase of our investigation into the spot forex market,” EU Antitrust Chief Margrethe Vesteger said in a statement.
She said the complicit behavior of the five banks undermined the integrity of the financial sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers.
Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, MUFG and RBS were fined a total of €1.07 billion in May 2019 by EU antitrust authorities for manipulating the foreign exchange market across two cartels, between 2007 and 2013 for one group and between 2009 and 2012 for another. .
(1 dollar = 0.8828 euros)
(Reporting by Fu Yun Che; Additional reporting by Ian Winters and Kirsten Ridley in London and Brianna Hughes Negawe and Oliver Hurt in Zurich; Editing by Carmel Kremens and Jane Merriman)