Australia drops landmark criminal cartel case against Citi, Deutsche

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SYDNEY: Australia withdrew a cartel lawsuit against Citigroup Inc, Deutsche Bank AG and several former executives over a A$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion) share issue, ending what was set to be the country’s biggest white-collar criminal trial.
After nearly four years of pre-trial administrative hearings in packed courtrooms, the public prosecutor’s office pulled its case early on Friday, said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which had first referred the matter to the prosecutor.
The ACCC did not give a reason for the move, but the prosecutor had been narrowing the scope of the lawsuit in recent months, including dropping charges against the client for the stock issue in question, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, plus the bank’s treasurer.
The prosecutor had been ordered to rewrite its indictment twice by the Federal Court of Australia, which called the previous versions of the document deficient.
“We respect the independent decision of the CDPP, and with them will consider what lessons can be learnt from this matter,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement, referring to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
The CDPP was not immediately available for comment.
The move represents a stunning retreat from a lawsuit that could have seen former executives of some of the world’s largest investment banks behind bars. It also marks an end to a challenge to the way investment banks conduct capital raisings as joint lead managers.
“We have always maintained that our bank and our staff … acted responsibly, in the interests of clients and in a manner consistent with all rules and regulations,” Deutsche Bank said in a statement. “We recognize the significant impact that this case has had on the lives of the individuals involved but we are pleased to see that they have been vindicated.”
Citi had no immediate comment, while ANZ was not immediately available for comment. When ANZ was removed from the case in October, it said it had always acted lawfully.
At the heart of the case were phone calls soon after the 2015 stock issue in which the banks discussed that they were left holding unissued shares. Their staff were heard on the call saying they would withhold selling the shares to prevent a flood of new stock hitting the market, sending the price down.
A third investment bank working on the issue, JPMorgan Chase & Co, was also on the calls. It notified regulators about a potential perception of collusion in exchange for legal immunity, on legal advice, its former staff said in hearings, adding that they never viewed the discussions as improper.
“This has been going on for four years, I’ve just had my fourth Christmas with this hanging over my head,” said one of the individual defendants, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. “It’s taken me by surprise to be honest. I’m still in a bit of shock.”
JPMorgan was not immediately available for comment.