April 25, 2018 / 3:44 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-South African watchdog says forex-rigging trial likely to begin in 2019

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CAPE TOWN, April 25 (Reuters) - Court proceedings against 18 banks accused of rigging the rand currency are likely to start next year, as prosecutors need time to prepare the complex case, the head of cartels at South Africa’s Competition Commission said on Wednesday.

The commission concluded an investigation last February into whether local and foreign banks colluded to coordinate their trading activities when giving quotes to customers who were buying or selling currencies.

“Our case against the banks is very strong and we want to deal with all these technicalities so the matter can go on trial, maybe by the second quarter of next year,” Makgale Mohlala said.

Competition authorities will first hold a series of “exception hearings” to discuss the possible exclusion of banks on technical grounds at the end of July.

The trial will get under way after investigators and the banks hand over relevant documents and the accused enter their pleas in response to the charges, Mohlala said.

South Africa said in August it would no longer offer deals to banks cooperating with investigations into suspected currency rigging, a blow to some lenders that had discreetly approached the watchdog for a settlement.

Mohlala was speaking outside a hearing by the Competition Appeal Court, which reserved judgment after Standard Bank challenged a tribunal decision that the bank was not yet entitled to access details of the commission’s investigation. The court gave no date for its ruling.

Arnold Subel, lawyer for Standard Bank, told the hearing the bank had found no suggestion that it was involved in any irregularity related to suspected forex manipulation and had been asking for the records for more than a year.

The regulator has recommended fines amounting to 10 percent of the more than a dozen local and foreign banks’ South African revenues in a scandal that has piled political pressure on local lenders. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf Editing by Alison Williams)

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