Citi, Deutsche Bank, ANZ committed for trial in Australian criminal cartel case

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc, Deutsche Bank AG, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd and six current and former staff were committed on Tuesday to stand trial in Australia after pleading not guilty to colluding during a share issue.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

In the country’s biggest white collar criminal case, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has brought charges against the financial giants, their client and current and former executives, accusing them of colluding to avoid flooding the market with new shares and stop the price falling.

The matter has crawled through numerous hearings in a local court in Sydney as lawyers for each defendant sought to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and question whether regulators followed due process as they gathered evidence.

Now, with the formal pleas of not guilty, the matter will go to trial in the Federal Court, more than two years since the charges were brought and five years since the A$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion) stock issue for ANZ took place. A trial date has not yet been set.

ACCC chair Rod Sims declined to comment since the matter was before the court.

Citi denied the allegations, as it has done throughout, while Deutsche Bank said it would defend the charges. ANZ, Australia’s fourth-largest retail bank, declined to comment.

The case is being closely watched by financial markets participants around the world because it could influence how capital raisings are conducted.

For companies, each criminal cartel charge could mean a fine of up to A$10 million or three times the amount the company benefited from the actions in question, whichever is greater.

Individuals face sentences of to up to 10 years’ imprisonment, fines of up to A$420,000, or both.

(This story corrects paragraphs 1, 2 to show charges also cover current staff)

Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Shruti Sonal and Deepali Saxena; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Lincoln Feast.