Banking giant ANZ settles rate-rigging case ahead of trial

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Pns: ANZ Bank settled an alleged rate-rigging case with Australia's corporate regulator on the opening day of a court hearing Monday that also involves fellow heavyweights Westpac and NAB.

The three banks are being probed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) about possible fixing of the country's benchmark interest rate. This involves the manipulation of the bank bill swap reference rate, a benchmark used to set the price of Australian financial products such as bonds and loans.

ANZ said in a statement it had reached "a confidential in-principle agreement" with ASIC, with final details being negotiated.

"As a result, this morning ASIC has asked the court to stand down the trial for 48 hours, which ANZ will consent to, so as to progress the in-principle agreement following which ANZ will make a more detailed statement," it added. It was unclear whether there was any admission of wrongdoing, which is partly what ASIC was seeking along with financial penalties.

The deal increases pressure on the other two banks to also strike settlements or face a lengthy trial. Neither they nor ASIC had any immediate comment, with the hearing due to resume on Wednesday. Leading Australian financial institutions have been under increased scrutiny in recent years amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud.

The conservative government responded to public anger by boosting funding to ASIC and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate financial crime. On Monday, the Australian Financial Review reported that Canberra was preparing to triple corporate penalties and give ASIC even more power in cracking down on white collar crime.

It is not only Australia under the microscope with a series of scandals globally in recent years such as rigging of the Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate) interest rate and foreign exchange rates. Major banks have been slapped with billions of dollars in fines by US and British regulators.

PNS/Tamanna Khan

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