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HSBC fails to shake off Euribor cartel charge

FILE PHOTO: Logo of HSBC is seen on its headquarters at the financial Central district in Hong Kong

By Foo Yun Chee and Kirstin Ridley

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - HSBC on Thursday failed to overturn a court ruling that it had participated in a cartel to rig benchmark Euribor rates in 2007, but Europe's top court confirmed that a 33.6 million euro ($36 million) fine had been scrapped.

The European Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, rejected HSBC's attempt to clear its name by challenging a 2019 lower court decision that it had colluded with others to try to manipulate key Euribor (euro interbank offered rate) rates.

"The Court of Justice upholds the annulment of the 33.6 million euro fine imposed on the HSBC Group," the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (CJEU) said, but added it "dismisses the HSBC companies' action challenging the finding that it participated in the cartel at issue".

An HSBC spokesperson declined to comment.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive body, ruled in 2016 that HSBC and six other banks had tried to distort Euribor, a benchmark for rates on financial products, fining the lender 33.6 million euros.

HSBC, penalised alongside JPMorgan and Credit Agricole, appealed against the decision. Three years later, a lower tribunal scrapped the fine because of insufficient reasoning, but dismissed the bank's attempt to shake off the ruling that it had taken part in a cartel.

The European Commission subsequently imposed a slightly lower fine of 31.7 million euros in 2021, which HSBC is separately challenging.

The Commission has said the trio was part of a cartel that colluded between September 2005 and May 2008 to try to rig Euribor interest rates - which provide a benchmark for rates on financial products such as interest rate swaps, futures, saving accounts and mortgages - to increase profit or reduce risk.

It said traders at seven banks were in regular contact and exchanged information on their trading positions and pricing strategies via chatrooms or messaging services.

HSBC has argued its role was peripheral - one former trader was involved in banks' attempts to manipulate Euribor over a six-week period in 2007 - and that the Commission's investigative procedure violated its rights of defence.

HSBC, JPMorgan and Credit Agricole opted against settling with European regulators and, following a full investigation, JPMorgan was fined 337.2 million euros and Credit Agricole was ordered to pay 114.7 million euros.

Both banks are also appealing. They declined to comment on Thursday.

Deutsche Bank, RBS and Societe Generale admitted wrongdoing in return for much lower fines, while Barclays blew the whistle on the cartel and escaped a penalty.

EU, U.S. and British regulators have fined banks billions of euros for manipulating benchmark interest rates and the foreign exchange market.

The case is C-883/19 P HSBC Holdings and Others v Commission.

($1 = 0.9310 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels, Kirstin Ridley in London and Benoit Van Ovestraeten in Paris; editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)