Big banks off the hook for rand manipulation

The Competition Appeals Court (CAC) dismissed charges against 23 banks and financial institutions implicated in the Competition Commission’s probe into alleged currency manipulation.

The CAC handed down a judgement on Monday, 8 January, dismissing the Competition Commission’s eight-year case against three big South African banks and most of the foreign banks implicated in the probe. 

The ruling, therefore, dismissed the claims against Standard Bank, Nedbank, and FirstRand.

This leaves just Investec and the four foreign banks whose traders pleaded guilty to charges brought by the US Department of Justice years ago.

Investec remains in the case because it did not join the application to the CAC to prevent the case from going ahead.

The CAC dismissed the charges against some of the banks and financial institutions for various reasons.

This included a lack of jurisdiction to prosecute some of the international banks and an incorrect attempt to prosecute holding companies not involved in the alleged trades. 

In addition, some charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, with the court stating the commission should have been more thorough in setting out its case.

“An occasional participation in a chatroom or unspecified conduct which is tenuously inferred as being part of the overall conspiracy is insufficient to meet these jurisdictional requirements,” the court said.

In its ruling on Standard Bank’s involvement, for example, the court stated, “In the case against Standard Bank, the skeletal nature of any allegations reveals that there is no basis by which its activity fell within the scope of subject matter jurisdiction.” 

“To find, as the Tribunal did, that there are disputes that only can be determined after the benefit of a full hearing bears little relationship to that which is contained in the referral affidavit. The case does not get out of the legal starting blocks.”

These findings come after Standard Chartered Bank was fined R43 million for manipulating the rand against the US dollar.

In 2023, the UK-based multinational bank pleaded guilty to using illegal tactics to manipulate the rand between 2007 and 2013.

The illegal tactics involved fixing bids, offers, bid-offer spreads, spot exchange rates, and the exchange rate at the FIX.

Standard Chartered was one of the 28 banks prosecuted by the commission for manipulating the USD/ZAR currency pair.

Numerous stakeholders, including South Africa’s ruling party, have called for significant penalties and criminal charges against those involved.

Standard Bank has already responded to the CAC’s ruling in a press statement released on Tuesday, 9 January.

“The Standard Bank of South Africa Limited welcomes the Competition Appeal Court’s decision to uphold its appeal by dismissing currency manipulation allegations against Standard Bank,” the bank said. 

“Standard Bank has always maintained that the Group is wholly committed to the rule of law, respects the important role of institutions, and upholds South Africa’s Constitutional Democracy, and our Constitutional obligation to ensure that our country improves the quality of life of all citizens.”