Italian prosecutors closed a probe Friday into Moody's on the same day the New York-based ratings agency downgraded the entire country to two notches above junk status.
The investigation, launched by prosecutors in the southern town of Trani, accuses Moody's of "spreading false, unfounded and imprudent judgements" on Italy's financial, economic and banking system, and "manipulating the market". The news of a Moody's downgrade Friday came just hours before Italy, the eurozone's third largest economy, was due to go to the financial markets to raise some 5.25 billion euros in an auction of medium and long-term government bonds.
Responding to complaints from consumer associations Adusbef and Federconsumatori, the same office has opened probes into the two other major New York ratings agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor's. "Adusbef and Federconsumatori recalls the damages caused by the three ratings-agency sisters," said the groups in a statement, calculating damages to the Italian economy of 120 billion euros due to the downgrades. Financial police in January searched the Milan offices of Fitch six days after S&P downgraded Italy along with eight other countries including France and Spain.
The Trani probe into suspected market manipulation began last year and gathered pace after the S&P downgrade and Fitch's threat to follow suit.
The pan-European markets regulator last week opened an investigation into whether the three big US ratings agencies are sufficiently "rigorous and transparent" in the way they evaluate banks.
The two-year-old European Securities and Markets Authority (EMSA) was alarmed by the rating agencies' mass downgrade of 15 banks last month, and expects to finish the probe by the end of the year.