Westpac to fight ASIC rate-rigging allegations

Monday, January 14, 2019

Westpac is readying to fight allegations by the corporate watchdog that it rigged one of Australia’s key interest rates, despite its co-accused, ANZ and National Australia Bank, settling their cases.
Nanjing Night Net

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission alleged the three banks separately rigged the bank bill swap rate, a key benchmark rate used when setting the cost of business loans, for financial gain.

Lawyers for Westpac told the Federal Court on Monday it would continue with the landmark case, despite the bank facing increasing pressure to settle with ASIC.

The trial is expected to result in Westpac’s top trader, Colin Roden, being called to give evidence to explain chat room and phone transcripts that include him saying in regards to moving the bank bill swap rate: “I know it’s completely wrong … But f–k it, I may as well.”

On Monday, ANZ and NAB confirmed they had concluded their respective settlement discussions with ASIC.

Justice Jonathan Beach adjourned the case against the latter two banks and referred them to a penalty hearing in November.

Last week, NAB settled with ASIC for $50 million, while ANZ reportedly settled its case for a similar amount.

It is understood informal talks between ASIC and Westpac continued over the weekend and a settlement is still possible.

However, Westpac has long maintained that it has a stronger case than ANZ and NAB because its treasury desk was separate from its trading desk and its bankers were not impacting customers, but rather strengthening the banks’ balance sheet.

NAB’s treasury desk was also separate from its trading desk at the time of the alleged trades.

NAB confirmed to the Australian Securities Exchange late on Friday it had settled with ASIC for $50 million. As part of the settlement, NAB has admitted to attempting to engage in unconscionable conduct on 12 occasions.

Last Monday, ANZ confirmed it had reached an in-principle agreement with ASIC.

NAB has agreed to pay ASIC’s costs of $20 million as part of its settlement and ANZ’s deal is also believed to cover ASIC’s costs.

The bank bill swap rate is a key rate at which banks lend to each other over a short period. It is one of the most important interest rates in the economy, providing a benchmark for the setting of a range of business loan interest rates.

Westpac has been accused of 16 counts of unconscionable conduct by ASIC. NAB faced 50 counts and ANZ 43 counts.

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