EU offers banks chance to cut fines in rate-fixing probe: sources
By Foo Yun Chee
PARIS (Reuters) - The European Commission wants to conclude its investigation into the fixing of lending benchmarks Euribor and Libor this year and has offered several banks under suspicion the possibility of a settlement to reduce hefty fines, sources said.
If the banks were to agree to such a settlement, it would allow the EU's antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia to wrap up his investigation as soon as this year and before his term as antitrust commissioner draws to a close in late 2014.
"Almunia wants decisions on the cases by the end of the year," said one of the sources familiar with the investigation.
The offer comes almost 18 months after the Commission raided a number of banks suspected of Euribor rate rigging. It later widened its investigation to other benchmarks.
The move signals that there is a prospect of reduced fines from Brussels in return for ending any activities that could lead price-fixing of Euribor, the euro interbank-offered rate, and its larger counterpart the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor).
Many banks are reluctant, however, to settle with the Commission because they believe the charges are unfounded, they said.
If they resist and the Commission later finds them guilty of manipulation, they would face a fine equivalent to 10 percent of their annual revenue. That could rise to three times as much if individual banks are prosecuted for rigging three benchmarks. By settling, the fines would be reduced.
A spokesman for Almunia declined to comment on the prospect of any settlement. Continued...