Italian police seize Barclays documents in rates probe

BARI, Italy Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:46am EDT

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BARI, Italy (Reuters) - Police have seized documents at the Milan offices of British bank Barclays as part of an Italian probe into possible manipulation of Euribor lending rates, judicial sources and consumer groups told Reuters on Tuesday.

The search took place last Friday and was ordered by prosecutors in the southern city of Trani, the sources said. Barclays has been fined over $450 million by U.S. and British authorities for manipulating Libor benchmark lending rates. Euribor is Libor's counterpart for euros.

The Italian prosecutors have opened a criminal probe into the possible Euribor manipulation following complaints filed by two consumer groups, Adusbef and Federconsumatori.

But the judicial sources said neither Barclays nor any other bank had been put under formal investigation.

Barclays in Italy was not immediately available for comment. Barclays in London made no immediate comment.

The consumer groups said in a joint statement that documents, computer material and emails were seized at Barclays Milan offices "with the aim of looking for evidence that Barclays also manipulated Euribor, as it did with Libor, with a negative impact on mortgage rates paid by Italians."

Fourty-three banks, including Italian lenders Intesa Sanpaolo, UniCredit, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena and UBI Banca, sit on the Euribor panel.

The Italian probe is one in a series of investigations into suspected rigging of euro interest rates.

Adusbef and Federconsumatori estimate 2.5 million Italian households may have been hurt by the alleged lending rate manipulation, estimating the total financial damage at 3 billion euros.

The prosecutors' office in Trani, a small town in the southeastern region of Puglia, has made a speciality of high-profile investigations of international financial institutions, on the basis of complaints by Adusbef and Federconsumatori.

The office is currently investigating the big ratings agencies, Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch for alleged market manipulation over their downgrades of Italy's sovereign rating.

(Reporting By Antonella Ciancio in Milan and Vincenzo Damiani in Bari; additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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