Morgan Stanley Discloses $3.21 Billion Italian Swaps Claim

Morgan Stanley said an Italian prosecutor may seek as much as 2.88 billion euros ($3.21 billion) over allegations that derivatives the investment bank sold more than a decade ago were improper and unfairly unwound.

Italy’s Court of Accounts, the country’s state auditor, sent Morgan Stanley the proposed claim over derivatives created from 1999 through 2005 and terminated by 2012, the New York-based bank said Wednesday in a quarterly regulatory filing. Italy had paid Morgan Stanley $3.4 billion to unwind interest-rate swaps and options that had backfired, as it was cheaper than renewing the contracts, Bloomberg reported in 2012.

Mark Lake, a Morgan Stanley spokesman, said the proposed claim is groundless and that the bank will defend itself vigorously.

Wall Street has been accused of duping municipalities with sophisticated and complex instruments. Some banks pitched the derivatives transactions as a way to save on borrowing expenses, but many ended up being costly for their government customers. Across Italy, cities faced with shrinking income and rising expenses bought swaps from U.S. firms to cut short-term interest costs, putting them at risk of paying more in the long run.

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