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CAPE TOWN - Banking giant Standard Bank yesterday fought back against the Competition Commission, applying for access to information in the foreign currency collusion probe.

The bank said that it wanted the commission to furnish it with full evidence on its allegations against it, meaning that its application would now be heard separately.

The bank asked the Competition Tribunal yesterday to separate the exception application in the case against seventeen other banks accused of currency manipulation. The tribunal initially proposed the that the hearing be held together over two days.

However, it received a request from the commission asking for the separation of the hearings. “In examination of the exception filed by Standard Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC Bank and Standard New York Securities, it is clear that these interlocular applications do not comply with the rules of the High Court dealing with exceptions,” the commission said.

“The commission submits that the purported exceptions applications of these respondents should be determined at a separate hearing before the hearing of the remaining exception application,” read the affidavit.

Standard Bank wants the tribunal to force the commission to give it the evidence it has against it. The application comes in the wake of earlier claims by the bank that the commission had no case against it. It said the commission did not provide any particularity of when, where and how often it allegedly participated in collusive practices rendering it impossible for it to respond meaningfully.

Standard Bank’s rivals Absa is among the three banks that had admitted their guilt in the collusion, with Citibank having already been fined close to R70million after it also admitted guilt and agreed to provide the graft agency with evidence implicating the other implicated banks. Earlier this year the commission said that it was investigating a case of price-fixing and market allocation in the trading of foreign currency pairs involving the rand by more than 15 South African and international banks.

The commission requested the tribunal to take 10% of the 14 of the 17 implicated banks’ annual turnover as punishment.

The commission’s probe followed the admission by Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland to the UK and US authorities in 2015 that they had cheated clients by using invitation only chat rooms to co-ordinate trades.

The four banks were fined close to $6 billion (R78bn)for the collusion.

The currency trading market is estimated to be worth $5trillion a day. Last year, European antitrust regulators fined HSBC, Crédit Agricole and JP Morgan Chase a total of just over 485m (R7.53bn) for colluding to fix benchmark interest rates tied to the euro.

The South African probe began in 2015 and focused on price fixing and market allocation in the trading of foreign currency pairs involving the rand.

After releasing its financial results earlier this year, Standard Bank’s co-chief executive Sim Tshabalala said that the bank had not set aside any cash to pay the fine for the alleged collusion.

“We’ve trawled chat rooms, phone calls; we’ve gone through thousands of records and have not come across any (collusion). (The traders) have been very clear that they are not guilty of any form of collusion,” Tshabalala said at the time.

One of the traders fingered by the graft agency, Jason Katz, had entered into a plea bargain with US authorities in December, which was unrelated to the period in which the Standard Bank Group employed him.

-BUSINESS REPORT