File photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Johannesburg - The Competition Commission refuses to disclose the exact percentage the R69.5 million CitiBank agreed to pay for its involvement in the currency manipulation probe constitutes of the bank’s total turnover.

The commission said on Wednesday it would not disclose the percentage as it was bound by the confidentiality agreement with CitiBank, as the Competition Tribunal seeks to assess the fairness of the settlement reached last month.

The commission’s divisional manager for cartels division, Makgale Mohlala, said the aim of the settlement was to incentivise companies to come forward and assist the commission about things that take place behind closed doors.

“We tend to not insist on higher penalties during settlements,” Mohlala said. “There’s a need for people who were there when cartels formulated their conduct to the nation in their confidence and tell us what happened behind closed doors. That’s the price we pay.”

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Mohlala described the banks’ cartels as “hard core” and said he was satisfied the penalty for Citibank was fair. Last month, the commission said it had referred a case involving nearly 20 banks to the tribunal for prosecution on allegations of price fixing in international markets involving the value of the rand against the dollar.

In its affidavit before the tribunal, the commission said since at least 2007 to at least 2013, the banks allegedly agreed to fix prices of bids and offered quotes to customers by agreeing on prices.

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The commission said the bank colluded to fix bid-offer spreads by consenting on the size to charge customers for a certain volume of a currency exchange. The banks also agreed to co-ordinate trading by assisting each other through manipulating the price of bids and offers through agreements to refrain from trading at particular times.

The banks included Absa, Investec and Standard Bank.

Absa and Citibank quickly moved to settle with the commission after admitting to wrongdoing and agreed to testify against the other banks in the probe, while Standard Bank said it was awaiting further information.

The commission said no penalties would be levied against Absa and that it had settled with CitiBank. It said it would, however, seek the maximum 10 percent fine of annual turnover on the other banks.

Citibank legal representative Isabel Goodman confirmed that the bank had claimed confidentiality over the information, but it was willing to share it with the tribunal on a confidential basis.

In 2015, UK and US authorities fined Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland nearly $6 billion (R75.74 billion) after the banks admitted they cheated clients by using invitation-only chat rooms to co-ordinate trades.