UPDATE 2-Swiss competition watchdog opens probe into forex manipulation

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(Adds bank and WEKO comments)

ZURICH, March 31 (Reuters) – Switzerland’s competition
commission WEKO said on Monday it had opened an investigation
into several Swiss, British and U.S. banks over potential
collusion to manipulate foreign exchange rates.

WEKO said it is investigating UBS, Credit Suisse
, Zuercher Kantonalbank (ZKB), Julius Baer,
JP Morgan, Citigroup, Barclays and Royal
Bank of Scotland.

“Evidence exists that these banks colluded to manipulate
exchange rates in foreign currency trades,” WEKO said in a
statement. It said it assumed the most important exchange rates
were affected.

Authorities in the United States, Britain, Germany and
Singapore are also looking into allegations of collusion and
manipulation by traders at major banks of the largely
unregulated $5.3 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. An
international investigation into rigging of benchmark interest
rates has already led to heavy fines for banks.

In the foreign exchange market, these authorities are
examining whether traders from different banks worked together
to influence currency prices and whether they traded ahead of
their own customers or failed to accurately represent to
customers how they were determining the prices.

WEKO Director Rafael Corazza said WEKO was in touch with
some international authorities but had not been prompted by a
foreign authority to open the investigation.

“We have to conduct the investigation ourselves. There’s no
legal basis at the moment to exchange data directly with foreign
authorities,” he told Reuters.

Credit Suisse said in a statement it was “astonished” to be
drawn into such a probe after not being subject to a preliminary
investigation last year.

Credit Suisse said WEKO’s press release contained incorrect
references to Credit Suisse AG and these allegations were
“inappropriate and harmful” to its reputation.

The Swiss competition authority opened a preliminary
investigation last October after learning about potential
manipulation of foreign exchange markets by banks.

UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, JP Morgan, RBS and Citi
declined to comment. Barclays did not immediately respond to a
request to comment.

Julius Baer said an internal investigation had found no
evidence of foreign exchange market abuse behaviour. Zuercher
Kantonalbank, Switzerland’s biggest regional bank, said it would
cooperate with authorities.

Sources at some of the banks named in the statement
expressed surprise at WEKO’s action because they were given no
advance notice.

WEKO Vice Director Olivier Schaller said the WEKO
investigation would certainly take months and could result in
fines of up to 10 percent of the turnover generated in the
relevant market in Switzerland over the last three years.

Last week, UBS suspended several currency traders, pending
international investigations into allegations of collusion and
market rigging.

A survey by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) published in
September showed the daily turnover in foreign exchange markets
of 25 sizeable banks in Switzerland amounted to $216.4 billion.

Data compiled by the Bank of International Settlements
(BIS)showed Switzerland handled 3.2 percent of global turnover
in foreign exchange markets in 2013, compared with 40.9 in the
UK and 18.9 in the U.S..

Between 2010-2013, the United Kingdom, the United States and
Singapore expanded their share in forex trading the most, with
turnover growth of 47 percent, 40 percent and 44 percent,
respectively, according to the BIS Triennial survey.

Singapore overtook Japan as the world’s third major forex
trading centre in 2013. By contrast, trading activity fell by 13
percent in Switzerland and by 5 percent Australia.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Silke Koltrowitz; Additional
reporting by Oliver Hirt, Rupert Pretterklieber and Anirban Nag;
Editing by Matt Driskill and Jane Merriman)

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