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Sources: RBS faces over US$600m fine for rate rigging

A sign in need of repair is seen outside a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in the City of London February 4, 2013. — Reuters picA sign in need of repair is seen outside a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in the City of London February 4, 2013. — Reuters picLONDON, Feb 6 — Royal Bank of Scotland will be hit with fines of almost £400 million (RM2 billion) today for its role in a global interest-rate rigging scandal, sources familiar with the situation said.

That will be the second-largest penalty so far in an international investigation involving over a dozen banks, and will heap embarrassment on a lender that had to be bailed out by British taxpayers at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

British finance minister George Osborne has already said RBS, which is 82-per cent owned by the state, must pay the fines out of bankers’ bonuses rather than from the pockets of taxpayers, while critics say the scandal shows banks’ riskier activities should be separated from basic lending functions.

Banks across the world are struggling to rebuild their reputations after the financial crisis, and many have been engulfed in a series of investigations into their past misdemeanours, including fixing benchmark interest rates, money laundering and mis-selling products to customers.

Britain’s Barclays has already paid US$450 million for its part in the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor), a benchmark used for trillions of dollars of financial instruments ranging from home loans to complex derivatives.

Some US$1.5 billion of fines have also been handed out to Swiss bank UBS for interest-rate rigging.

One of the sources said Royal bank of Scotland (RBS) would pay around £90 million to Britain’s Financial Services Authority, about US$150 million to the United States Department of Justice and about US$325 million to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

RBS said it expected to pay “significant penalties” to settle regulatory probes.

It was in “late stage settlement discussions” with regulators in Britain and the United States, but no fines had yet been agreed, the bank said in a statement, adding it expected regulators to impose other sanctions beyond the fines.

Reports have said it could also face criminal charges.

John Hourican, head of RBS’s investment bank, will part company with the bank following the settlement, sources have said, although there is no suggestion he had any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Chief Executive Stephen Hester has warned of a “miserable day” for the bank, during which embarrassing emails exposing the extent of collusion between traders are set to be revealed.

RBS said last August it had dismissed staff following its own internal investigation.

In limbo

The revelations could put the future of RBS’s investment bank under renewed scrutiny and are likely to re-ignite calls from critics who want the bank to focus on basic lending activities in its domestic market.

British Business Secretary Vince Cable said the bank was “in limbo” and should have been fully nationalised when it was rescued in the financial crisis.

The Liberal Democrat said early hopes for a re-privatisation of RBS now looked a “distant dream” and resurrected an idea he originally proposed in 2011 that shares in RBS should be distributed to the public by the government so that they share in any eventual recovery in the bank’s stock price.

Taxpayers are sitting on a loss of about £15.7 billion on the RBS stake, after Britain pumped in £45.5 billion to keep the bank afloat. In contrast, the United States has made tens of billions of dollars from its bank bailouts with the US Treasury selling the last of its securities in banking giant Citigroup for nearly US$900 million yesterday.

More than a dozen banks have been scrutinized by regulators as part of an investigation into interest-rate rigging. Dozens of individuals are also under scrutiny in the probe, initiated by the CFTC in October 2008.

The first arrests were made by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office in December. Sources have said Tom Hayes, who started his career at RBS, before working at UBS from 2006-9 and Citigroup in 2009-10, was among three people arrested at that time.

Shares in RBS were up 1 per cent at 341 pence by 1100 GMT (1900 Malaysian time), reflecting relief the fines might not be as large as the £500 million some observers had expected. — Reuters 

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