The European Commission has called for the manipulation of key inter-bank Libor interest rates to be a criminal offense. A key EU official said there should be "zero tolerance" for banks fiddling the figures.
The EU announced on Wednesday that it was amending its proposed new laws on insider trading and market manipulation to make it a criminal offense to rig interbank interest rates. These interbank rates serve as the benchmark for loans and mortgages around the world.
British bank Barclays was fined 290 million pounds (369 million euros, $450 million) last month after admitting that it had sought to rig the Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) flagship rate in the UK and its eurozone equivalent Euribor by submitting incorrect information.
"Keeping Libor artificially high or low is a scam," the European Commission Justice Commissioner and Vice-President Viviane Reding said in prepared remarks. "There must be zero tolerance for manipulators in the EU financial markets."
Reding said in Brussels that the new proposal "aims to criminalize the intentional transmission of false or misleading information manipulating the calculation of a benchmark," saying that the Barclays scandal and prior problems had caused public confidence in the banking sector to "nosedive." Reding said she hoped such rules would eliminate the practice altogether, because "criminal law can serve as a strong deterrent."
The Libor and Euribor rates serve as a benchmark for most global transactions, including private sector loans and mortgages.
Euribor's chief executive, Guido Ravoet, has strongly condemned past attempts to manipulate the benchmark rate.
"We fully support the Commission's move to make them clearly illegal and liable to criminal sanctions," Ravoet said on Wednesday. "It is important that the Commission seizes this opportunity to introduce a common understanding and sanctioning mechanism in the EU."
Barclays Bank appears just to be the tip of the rate-rigging iceberg, several major moneylenders including Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are also being investigated by regulatory authorities.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper has reported that the German banking regulator BaFin is investigating Deutsche Bank for potential rate-rigging.
The amendment to EU regulation proposals has been added to an existing draft designed to prohibit insider trading and market manipulation. It was first submitted in October 2011.There must be zero tolerance for manipulators in the EU financial markets.