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Swiss banks implicated in trading cartel investigation

The EU Commissioner for competition policy, Margrethe Vestager. Keystone / Olivier Hoslet

The European Commission has ended an investigation of five banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse, who colluded in a foreign exchange spot trading cartel.

The total fines announced on Thursday came to €344 million (CHF359 million), with British bank HSBC taking the biggest hit of €174 million.

UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, escaped a potential fine of €94 million since it revealed the existence of the cartel, the Commission saidExternal link. Credit Suisse, the only one of the five banks not to cooperate with the procedure, enjoyed no leniency and took a penalty of €83.3 million.

The Commission said foreign exchange traders from the banks “exchanged sensitive information and trading plans, and occasionally coordinated their trading strategies through an online professional chatroom called Sterling Lads”. This enabled them to escape the inherent risks involved in currency trading. On occasion, one trader would even “stand down” in order not to interfere with the trading strategy of another.

Collusive behaviour

“The collusive behaviour of the five banks undermined the integrity of the financial sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers,” EU competition policy commissioner Margrethe Vestager said on Thursday. The fines “send a clear message that the Commission remains committed to ensure a sound and competitive financial sector”.

Swiss banks, meanwhile, are also on the receiving end in other recent and upcoming cases. Credit Suisse, after a scandal-hit year, was fined $475 million (CH439 million) in October to resolve bribery and fraud charges relating to the “tuna bonds” corruption scandal in Mozambique.

UBS is expecting to learn this month the outcome of its appeal in Paris of a record €3.7 billion fine for having solicited French tax evaders over a number of years and laundered the proceeds of the tax dodgers. The verdict is due on December 13.

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