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EU must 'apologise' for bias in rate rigging case: watchdog

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EU must 'apologise' for bias in rate rigging case: watchdog

Emily O’Reilly - Photo © European Communities

(BRUSSELS) - European regulators mishandled an ongoing case on alleged interest rate rigging by some of world's biggest banks and must apologise to France's Credit Agricole for implying guilt, the EU's ombudsman said Thursday.

"The new Commission should acknowledge the maladministration that has occurred in this case under the previous Commission, apologise, and make sure that this does not happen again," said European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly in a statement.

In the line of fire is former Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who O'Reilly said "created a public impression of bias" in public statements involving Credit Agricole.

Repeated public comments by Almunia, who left office in November, created the impression "that the former Commission had already reached a conclusion about the bank's alleged participation in the cartel before the investigation was complete."

In 2013, banking giants Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale and Royal Bank of Scotland admitted to collusion on Euribor -- an interest rate benchmark mark used for a wide range of financial instruments -- and suffered total penalties of 1.7 billion euros, an EU record.

But Credit Agricole, HSBC and JPMorgan denied collusion and the investigation continues, handled now by a new commission team that took over from Almunia.

Last year, Credit Agricole complained to the ombudsman that Almunia had made a series of accusatory statements.

As an example cited by O'Reilly, Almunia in January 2014 told a panel of French senators that "we'll go the full distance" in the probe of Credit Agricole.

"Since we have a lot of information already, the investigation isn't the most difficult in the world," he said.

Ricardo Cardoso, spokesman for new competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said the commission "took note" of the criticism and "will carefully analyse the report and respond to it in due course."

But he added: "Commissioner Vestager has made clear from the very start of her mandate that it is her policy not to comment on the substance of ongoing investigations."

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