Australia has laid cartel charges against Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and ANZ, plus six bank executives, over the sale of 2.5 billion Australian dollars ($1.9 billion) in ANZ shares to institutional investors three years ago.
The charges allege that the banking rivals made non-compete arrangements to fix prices of ANZ shares held by Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. ANZ and officials from all three banks are alleged to have been knowingly concerned in the illegal conduct, the regulator Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.
The three banks deny the allegations and say they will defend their current and former employees. The first hearing in a Sydney court will be July 3.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Wednesday the charges plus the agreement this week by the nation's largest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, to pay a record AU$700 million fine for failing to comply with measures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing showed that regulators were doing their jobs.
The government has also commissioned a wide-ranging judicial inquiry into misconduct in the financial sector which has been hearing testimony since March.
"The wrong thing has been done, clients have not been put first. We are determined to ensure that this misconduct through the financial services sector is not repeated and we've changed the law and improved the regulation and given greater resources to the regulators to ensure it is not repeated," Turnbull told reporters.
"We will ensure that those who have done the wrong thing are held to account," Turnbull added.
Citigroup and Deutsche Bank had underwritten an ANZ share issue in August 2015 and had allegedly agreed on a minimum share price so that the stock would not lose value.
Former head of Citigroup in Australia, Stephen Roberts, who retired in 2016, and Deutsche Bank's former Australian boss Michael Ormaechea, who retired last year, were among those charged.
Deutsche Bank's former head of equity capital markets in Australia, Michael Richardson, has also been charged. Richardson is now employed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London.
Citigroup's head of capital markets origination, John McLean, and global head of foreign exchange trading Itay Tuchman, have also been charged.
The only ANZ employee charged is Rick Moscati, the bank's treasurer.
Under tough laws introduced in 2009, each man would face a maximum of 10 years in prison and fines of up to AU$420,000 if convicted.
The banks face a potential maximum penalty equivalent to 10 percent of their annual turnover or three times the benefit gained from the criminal behavior.
Melbourne University Professor of Commercial Law Ian Ramsay said the regulator had never before taken law enforcement action in the area of companies raising capital.
"These are criminal proceedings against some of our most prominent financial institutions and very prominent individuals. It is what I would call high-stakes litigation," Ramsay told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"There's a lot of people who are very, very nervous" in the banking industry, Ramsay added.