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Brazil investigates big banks for exchange rate manipulation

Brazil’s antitrust agency opened an investigation into fifteen foreign banks and thirty individuals for allegedly forming a cartel to manipulate exchange rates of local Brazilian reals and foreign currency.

Among the banks under investigation are affiliates of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Chartered, UBS, and Standard Bank (South Africa), according to the release from the agency.

Thirty individuals were also named in the government release.

The investigation is focused on allegations that the banks shared sensitive competition information and engaged in price fixing from 2009 until at least 2011. The investigation could expand to cover 2007 until 2013.

In May this year, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS pleaded guilty to U.S. charges and paid more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines for rigging the foreign exchange market.

In December 2013, the EC fined eight banks including RBS a combined €1.7 billion ($2.16 billion) for colluding to fix Euribor and yen Libor rates. The other banks were Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Société Générale, UBS, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and RP Martin.

The Brazil antitrust agency release (called a technical note) refers to alleged discussions through chat platforms about price-fixing agreements on exchange-rate spreads. They also allegedly shared information about client orders.

An enforcement action by Brazil’s antitrust regulator for cartel practices can result in a fine up to 30% of a defendant’s gross income in the year prior to commencement of the investigation.

The managers of the company can be personally liable and sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine, in accordance with Law no. 8,137/90.

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Priscila Akemi Beltrame is lawyer at Chediak Advogados, in the firm’s compliance and anti-bribery team. Chediak offers legal assistance for both Brazilian and international clients across different industries and business sectors. She has a master degree in human rights and PhD in criminal law from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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