Australia’s big banks are nearing a deal that could trigger more than $100 million in penalties — the nation’s biggest corporate payout — after ANZ yesterday admitted wrongdoing to settle landmark legal action over the rigging of interest rates to inflate profits.
In addition to its confession, ANZ has agreed to pay between $50m and $60m to settle the Federal Court case, eclipsing the record civil penalty of $45m Tabcorp set in March over breaches of anti-money laundering laws.
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s ability to reap the biggest possible payday depends on it settling on similar terms to the ANZ with the two other banks, NAB and Westpac, it is also fighting in Federal Court over rate rigging.
Although the NAB was close to settling last night, Westpac was less keen on doing a deal.
Yesterday’s ANZ settlement — yet to be approved by the court — has been claimed as vindication by sources close to outgoing ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft, who has consistently insisted the banks need to “plead guilty” to settle the case.
However, it is also believed to include protections designed to stop ANZ’s admission of wrongdoing being used against it by class-action lawyers circling the banks over rigging the BBSW benchmark interest rate. If he can convince all three banks to settle, Mr Medcraft has the opportunity to end the long-running litigation before his eight-year term ends in three weeks and secure a significant victory.
The case has already thrown the trading-room culture of the big banks into the spotlight through reams of email, chat and phone transcripts that ASIC tendered to the court as part of its case. In one exchange, ANZ’s senior manager of funding and liquidity, Sean Collier, and a colleague mocked the integrity of the BBSW — an instrument key to pricing loans through the financial system.
“Lucky the rate sets are legit and there is no manipulation within the Australian financial system,” Mr Collier wrote, according to documents filed with the court.
“Ahahah,” the ANZ’s head of forward rates trading, Jim Vouziotis, replied.
In another message ANZ balance sheet trader Mark Budrewicz said he wanted to “ram” the rate, which at the time was set during a brief trading window between the banks.
The ANZ deal comes as Australia’s biggest financial institution, the Commonwealth Bank, faces its own legal stoush with a different regulator, Austrac, over allegations of tens of thousands of breaches of anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws that could lead to a fine worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It also represents a much-needed victory for Treasurer Scott Morrison, who has been pursuing the banks with his Banking Executive Accountability Regime — or BEAR — in a bid to stave off opposition calls for a royal commission into the sector; and for Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, who is responsible for ASIC.
In the lawsuits, filed last year, ASIC accused the banks of unconscionable conduct and market manipulation by trying to rig the BBSW between 2010 and 2012. The regulator accused ANZ of 44 breaches, NAB of 50 and Westpac of 16. No case has been filed against CBA. While NAB has more alleged breaches, its legal position is stronger because at the time it ran separate desks for ordinary trading and its own funding needs.
ANZ’s settlement was revealed during a six-minute hearing yesterday, as an eight-week trial of the allegations was due to begin. After being told by counsel for ASIC, John Karkar QC, that the deal needed to be “documented”, Judge Jonathan Beach adjourned the court until tomorrow morning.
Last modified on Thursday, 26 October 2017This article was first published by https://www.bfcsa.com.auAurhor: Ben Butler