European Union regulators on Tuesday charged banks JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole with colluding to manipulate the price of financial products linked to interest rates.
The European Commission’s move is the first step in a legal dispute that can cost the banks dearly. The Commission’s top competition regulator, Joaquin Almunia, said the banks will now have a chance to respond to the preliminary findings. If the Commission ultimately concludes they have broken the law, it can impose a fine of up to 10 percent of their annual revenue.
In December 2013, the Commission levied fines totaling 1.04 billion euros ($1.42 billion) on Barclays, Deutsche Bank, RBS and Societe Generale as part of the same case, which covers financial derivatives linked to a benchmark interest rate called Euribor in the period 2005-2008.
Barclays escaped fines for having notified the Commission of the existence of the cartel, and the others were granted a reduction in their fines for cooperating in a settlement.
Almunia noted at a press conference in Brussels that the three banks cited Tuesday, which have not conceded wrongdoing or agreed to a settlement, will “in any case” not receive any reduction in penalty if they are ultimately fined.
A spokesman for HSBC said, “We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.” A spokesman for Credit Agricole said the bank was still studying the ruling. JPMorgan could not immediately be reached for comment.