Banks and brokers are suspected of colluding to rig benchmark interest rates, the EU's antitrust chief said on Monday, detailing an ongoing investigation into suspected wrongdoing in the financial sector.
"Our concerns are that certain companies, in particular banks, but also some brokers, may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told EU lawmakers in Brussels.
Almunia's regulators are investigating illegal manipulation of the Libor rate, which is used as a reference for financial transactions worth more than $350 trillion globally, as well as the Euribor and Tibor reference rates.
British bank Barclays has already been fined for its role in rigging Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate), and officials have pledged to criminalise the manipulation of such indexes.
"Certain market players have colluded to submit aligned rates in order to benefit their trading positions in these interest rate derivative products, to the detriment of their trading counterparties as well as non-colluding companies," Almunia said.
He added that banks and brokers exchanged information about their trading positions and about their pricing plans for interest rate derivatives, as well as their expectations of future price trends.
Almunia was addressing a European Parliament hearing on the manipulation of interest-rate benchmarks.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and John O'Donnell; editing by Rex Merrifield)