The EU Commission has fined banking a number of major banks €485m for cartel offences. This type of offence is considered one of the “hard core” competition law breaches. The fines follow an investigation into collusion between traders concerning positions on the EURIBOR around a decade ago.

COMMISSION – EURIBOR RIGGING CARTEL

The fines related to an investigation into a pre-financial crisis cartel in euro interest rate derivatives. An €825m settlement was reached with a number of other major banks back in 2013 in relation to these activities. Other banks, however, declined to participate in that settlement and have now been fined over €485m combined.

ANTI-COMPETITIVE PRACTICES

The Commission’s findings were that between 2005 and 2008, traders of the banks were in regular contact over instant message or in chat-rooms. By telling each other their desired or intended EURIBOR (Euro Interbank Offered Rate) submissions or discussing trading positions and pricing strategies, the banks were colluding, rather than competing with each other.

The EURIBOR is similar to LIBOR, in that it is designed to reflect the cost of interbank lending. It is derived from submissions by banks to a calculation agent. By traders colluding on their submissions the rate could be manipulated in order to favour a certain trading position.

FINES

Fines ranged from €33,606,000 for 1 month of cartel participation, to €114,654,000 and €337,196,000 respectively for 5 months’ participation.

Under the 2013 settlement, the whistle-blowing bank was granted immunity and their fine was reduced to nil. The highest fine was €465,861,000 for 32 months’ participation. This reflected a 30% discount for their co-operation and worked out around €14.5m per month.

For those who refused to participate in the 2013 settled, fines have been assessed at around €67.5m per month. This is 352% higher per month than under the 2013 settlement.

As we have noted in previous competition blogs, the Commission is willing to show leniency to firms that blow the whistle or co-operate with their investigation. Resistance is futile… and leads to 352% heavier fines.

FOLLOW ON CLAIMS

A Commission decision is binding proof that anti-competitive behaviour took place and was illegal. Anyone affected by the behaviour can seek a remedy in damages before their national courts. This could lead to a class action lawsuit of the variety that MasterCard is facing (as we previously discussed here).