By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – HSBC has won an appeal against a decision by European antitrust regulators to fine Europe’s second-largest bank 33.6 million euros ($36 million) over its role in a cartel to manipulate benchmark Euribor interest rates in 2007.

However, the European Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court, said on Thursday that it had dismissed the bank’s challenge against a ruling that found it had participated in a cartel.

“The Court of Justice upholds the annulment of the 33.6 million euro fine imposed on the HSBC Group,” the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (CJEU) said, but added that it “dismisses the HSBC companies’ action challenging the finding that it participated in the cartel at issue”.

An HSBC spokesperson declined to comment.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, ruled in 2016 that HSBC and six other banks had tried to distort Euribor (euro interbank offered rate), a benchmark for rates on financial products, fining the lender 33.6 million euros.

HSBC, penalised alongside JPMorgan and Credit Agricole, challenged the decision and in 2019, a lower tribunal scrapped the fine because of insufficient reasoning.

The European Commission subsequently re-imposed a slightly lower fine of 31.7 million euros in 2021.

The Commission has said the trio was part of a cartel that colluded between September 2005 and May 2008 to try to rig Euribor interest rates – which provide a benchmark for rates on financial products such as interest rate swaps, futures, saving accounts and mortgages – to increase profit or reduce risk.

It said traders at seven banks were in regular contact and exchanged information on their trading positions and pricing strategies via chatrooms or messaging services.

HSBC, JPMorgan and Credit Agricole opted against settling with European regulators and, following a full investigation, JPMorgan was fined 337.2 million euros and Credit Agricole was ordered to pay 114.7 million euros.

Both banks are also appealing. JPMorgan and Credit Agricole both declined to comment.

Deutsche Bank, RBS and Societe Generale admitted wrongdoing in return for much lower fines, while Barclays blew the whistle on the cartel and escaped a penalty.

EU, U.S. and British regulators have fined banks billions of euros for manipulating benchmark interest rates and the foreign exchange market.

    The case is C-883/19 P HSBC Holdings and Others v Commission.

($1 = 0.9310 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels, Kirstin Ridley in London and Benoit Van Ovestraeten in Paris; editing by Jason Neely)

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