* Almunia ups pressure on banks in Euribor, Libor probe to
* EU's antitrust chief aims to end benchmark investigation
by year end - sources
* Offer to settle signals prospect of reduced fines from
By Foo Yun Chee
PARIS, Feb 22 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,
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
Many banks are reluctant, however, to settle with the
Commission because they believe the charges are unfounded, they
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.
Heavy penalties already loom in other regions. The United
States and Britain will by mid-year levy more fines against
those alleged to have been involved in interest rate rigging,
sources close to the probe said.
U.S. and UK regulators have fined three banks to date - RBS,
Britain's Barclays and Switzerland's UBS - a
total of $2.6 billion for allowing traders to game Libor
interbank rates in a global scam.
Earlier on Friday, Almunia said he had widened his
investigation of suspected unfair fixing of lending benchmarks
such as Euribor and Libor to interest rate products for the
Euribor and Libor are the key gauges of how much banks pay
to borrow from each other, and are used as reference points for
swathes of financial products from Spanish mortgages to
derivatives contracts sealed in London.
Both are set using interbank borrowing rates submitted by