Australian magistrate 'lost' as bank cartel case grinds on

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian magistrate processing a criminal cartel case against investment bank giants Citigroup Inc C.N and Deutsche Bank AG DBKGn.DE repeatedly professed to being "lost" as an early hearing ground its way through a Sydney court on Friday.

Some 20 months after authorities charged the banks and their former executives in Australia’s biggest white collar criminal case, the prosecution is still in its early stages.

The large number of defendants - the two banks, their client, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd ANZ.AX, and six of their former staff - has meant that pre-trial hearings have run longer than the five days scheduled last December as lawyers haggle over parameters of the case.

Defense lawyers have argued with prosecutors about which witnesses they can question and which parts of what documents they can see.

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to seem stupid, I just keep getting lost,” magistrate Jennifer Giles told the court during an argument about whether lawyers for ANZ, Australia’s fourth-largest retail bank, could get un-redacted versions of some documents.

In an argument about redacted records of a phonecall pertinent to the case, details of which were not disclosed to the court, Giles told the court, “I’m sorry, I’ve just been completely spun on one spot and I have no idea what the upshot is of that. I’m sorry. I’m lost. I’m so lost.”

The banks and their former staff have been charged over a A$2.5 billion capital raising for ANZ in 2015 in which the investment banks jointly ran the bookbuild. They are accused of colluding, during two conference calls, to withhold some of their shares to prop up the after-market stock price.

A third investment bank which worked on the capital raising, JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N, is testifying against the others in exchange for immunity from criminal charges.

None of the accused has entered a formal plea against the charges which carry hefty fines and prison time. Once they enter a plea of not guilty, the matter proceeds to trial, probably in the Federal court, lawyers have told the court previously.

Giles, the magistrate, said the time overrun had twice delayed a separate criminal hearing for a man in custody that was scheduled for the same courtroom.

The hearings continue on Feb. 7.

Editing by Jacqueline Wong