The university system filed an antitrust complaint in federal court in San Francisco. It accuses the banks of fraud, deceit and unjust enrichment, among other claims, and it seeks unspecified damages for either paying inflated interest rates or receiving deflated interest rates on its Libor-linked investments.
“The defendant Libor banks in this case engaged in illegal and improper conduct and engaged in a criminal conspiracy that caused harm to public entities and hundreds of millions of people around the world,” the University of California said in yesterday’s complaint.
Global regulators have fined UBS AG (UBSN), Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc about $2.5 billion in the past year for distorting Libor and similar benchmarks. At least a dozen firms remain under investigation around the world. This month, Singapore’s monetary authority censured 20 banks for attempting to fix interest rate levels and ordered them to set aside as much as $9.6 billion.
Banks already face dozens of lawsuits by U.S. homeowners and other plaintiffs seeking to hold them responsible for alleged manipulation of the rate used as a borrowing-cost benchmark. A class-action lawsuit filed in Manhattan in October by homeowners alleges a conspiracy among financial institutions drove up the cost of mortgage loans.
In April, a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed consolidated antitrust complaints by plaintiffs alleging they were harmed by the rigging of Libor. Bank of America and Barclays were among the defendants alleged to have conspired to depress Libor by understating their borrowing costs, thereby lowering their interest expenses on products tied to the rates.
While potential damages were estimated to be in the billions of dollars, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled the cases must be dismissed because of the inability of litigants that included brokerage Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), pension funds and other bondholders to show they were harmed.
Eight California counties and public entities sued the banks in January, alleging they lost millions of dollars because they were cheated out of higher payments on investments such as interest-rate swaps and corporate bonds tied to Libor. That complaint was filed by the same Burlingame, California-based law firm, Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, that brought yesterday’s suit.
Libor is a key metric for setting interest rates for trillions of dollars in financial instruments. It fixes the rates under which banks lend money to one another for as little as a day and as long as a year. Rates for 10 different currencies including the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and British pound are computed daily after canvassing banks that comprise membership panels for each type of money.
Michael O’Looney, a spokesman for London-based Barclays, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, and Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for New York-based Citigroup Inc. (C), another defendant, also declined to comment.
Representatives of two other defendants, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Norinchukin Bank, had no immediate comment.
Peter King, a spokesman for the university system, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment after regular business hours.
The case is Regents of the University of California v. Bank of America Corp. (BAC), 13-2921, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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