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Kookmin Among Four Banks Inspected by Korean Antitrust Regulator

Kookmin Bank
People use automatic teller machines at a Kookmin Bank branch in Seoul, South Korea. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

South Korea’s antitrust regulator is inspecting four of the country’s biggest lenders including Kookmin Bank and Woori Bank, spokesmen for the companies said.

The Fair Trade Commission began visiting the banks yesterday to examine whether they colluded in the setting of lending and deposit rates, Yonhap News reported, citing unnamed financial industry officials. The other lenders are Hana Bank and Shinhan Bank, company spokesmen told Bloomberg by phone today, asking not to be named during the investigation. They didn’t specify the reasons for the inspection.

The antitrust agency dispatched six inspectors to each of the four banks to examine documents, e-mails and online messages and determine whether their employees communicate with counterparts at other lenders about rates, according to Yonhap. The probe may be related to banks’ smaller reduction in loan rates than what they pay on deposits as the Bank of Korea cuts benchmark borrowing costs, Yonhap said, without citing anyone.

Sung Kyung Je, a spokesman for the commission, declined to comment, citing the organization’s policy.

The FTC investigated the country’s lenders and brokerages in July 2012 to determine whether they colluded to fix rates on certificates of deposit, which were then used as a benchmark for loans. The probe prompted the government to introduce new benchmarks for short-term lending and money-market rates.

The antitrust regulator hasn’t announced the findings of the 2012 probe, Sung at the FTC said.

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