File picture: Toby Melville, Reuters

Italian police have seized documents from the Milan branch of the scandal-hit British bank Barclays in an investigation into whether Euribor lending rates have been rigged, consumer groups said Tuesday.

Police have appropriated “numerous documents, computer information and emails” from the Milan branch, the Federconsumatori and Adusbef groups said in a joint statement. Both Barclays and the police were unavailable for comment.

Italian prosecutor Michele Ruggiero is investigating whether “just as it did with Libor, Barclays manipulated Euribor, with negative consequences on mortgage rates paid by Italians,” the statement said.

The bank has been embroiled in scandal since admitting last month that it attempted to manipulate the Libor interbank interest rate. It faces a slew of lawsuits and has been forced by British and US regulators to pay heavy fines.

The Italian probe into whether it also manipulated Euribor rates was launched following complaints filed by the consumer groups, who claim that up to 2.5 million families may have been affected.

They have estimated that the financial damage comes to 3.0 billion euros ($3.68 billion), or around 1,200 euros per family.

Ruggiero is already known in Italy for his investigation into the ratings agencies Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch, which are accused of manipulating the market with their downgrades of the Mediterranean country.

The Libor scandal prompted the resignation of Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond earlier this month, and also sparked a fierce political debate over ethics in the banking sector. - Sapa-AFP