Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

The Competition Commission’s currency-rigging case against bank traders will finally see the light of day this week, as banks present arguments to the Competition Tribunal on various technical issues, such as whether the commission has jurisdiction over foreign entities.

The merits of the case will be heard only after technical issues, known as exceptions, have been dealt with.

If that happens the Competition Commission would become the first competition authority worldwide to have to prosecute its forex accusations in court, according to the Global Competition Review, an antitrust and competition law journal.

Other countries had reached settlements or issued administrative decisions, the GCR said following its annual awards in April, at which the commission was named agency of the year in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

The case, which was first referred to the tribunal in February 2017, accuses 36 individuals with ties to 23 financial institutions of conspiring to rig trades involving the rand-dollar currency pair.

The accusations range from sharing information about customer orders to fixing prices, all with a view to co-ordinating trading activity so as to boost profit for the traders.

Five days have been set aside for this week’s hearings, which start Monday.

Banks’ exceptions would be heard according to themes, rather than hearing all 14 exception applications separately, the tribunal said in a statement on Friday.

This meant that some advocates would be representing more than one bank, a spokesperson for the tribunal said.

Banks’ exceptions range from contesting the commission’s authority to prosecute their traders in the instance of foreign banks to assertions that the charges lack detail or were initiated more than three years since the alleged practices ceased.

These arguments would be heard on Monday, with an extra day reserved for banks wishing to present additional insight, the tribunal said.

The commission would be allocated two days to respond, with banks each given 15 minutes to reply on the fifth and final day of the hearings.

The commission’s case, which was opened in April 2015, is built largely on records of conversations between traders on online instant-messaging platforms such as the Bloomberg Chatroom.

It would also have used damning findings against banks and traders in similar cases overseas.

The case was initially brought against 18 banks. Five related-party entities were joined in January 2018 on the basis that their initial omission was "inadvertent", the commission said at the time.

Citibank settled via a R69.5m fine in March 2017. Barclays Capital, Barclays Bank and Absa have applied for leniency, which will be granted at the end of the case, provided they have not withheld any information.

ziadyh@businesslive.co.za