June 2, 2020 / 3:52 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-S.African watchdog expands rand-rigging case, adds new banks

(Adds amended RMB response)

JOHANNESBURG, June 2 (Reuters) - South Africa’s competition watchdog has expanded its long-running rate-rigging case to target other lenders, including some of the country’s biggest banks, it said on Tuesday.

The Competition Commission has, following a probe that began in 2015, been seeking fines against 23 local and foreign banks that it alleges colluded to coordinate activities when giving quotes to customers buying or selling the rand and the dollar.

The country’s antitrust tribunal concluded last year that it had no powers to charge foreign banks but declined to throw the case out altogether, asking the commission to submit a new charge sheet.

The commission said in a statement on Tuesday it had done this, and in the process added five new banks to the case, taking the total to 28. These included Nedbank and units of two of South Africa’s big four lenders, FirstRand and Standard Bank.

“These charges will not go away,” said Tembinkosi Bonakele, who heads the commission.

“Some of the individual traders involved in the currency manipulation have been dismissed, but their employers - the banks - are yet to be held accountable in South Africa,” he added.

Nedbank and Standard Bank said they were reviewing the commission’s referral papers. Nedbank CEO Mike Brown added that it would respond in due course and remains committed to free and fair markets.

Rand Merchant Bank, the FirstRand unit named in the case, said a team comprising internal and external parties had investigated the matter in detail in 2015 and found no wrongdoing or unethical conduct on the part of the bank.

“RMB intends to work constructively with the relevant regulators to resolve this matter,” it added in an emailed statement.

The bank later sent an amended response that added it would investigate additional information contained in the new referral but that it was “confident that it had not been party to any conspiracy to manipulate the Rand, as alleged”.

Reporting by Emma Rumney, editing by Ed Osmond and Giles Elgood

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