European Union antitrust regulators on Tuesday charged banks JPMorgan, HSBC and Crédit Agricole with colluding to manipulate the price of financial products linked to interest rates.
"The commission has concerns that the three banks may have taken part in a collusive scheme which aimed at distorting the normal course of pricing components for euro interest rate derivatives," the EU competition authority said.
The European Commission's move is the first step in a legal dispute that could result in large fines.
In December 2013, the commission levied fines totalling 1.04 billion euros ($1.5 billion Cdn) on Barclays, Deutsche Bank, RBS and Société Générale as part of the same case, which covers financial derivatives linked to a benchmark interest rate called Euribor in the period 2005-2008.
Barclays escaped fines for having notified the commission of the existence of the cartel, and the others were granted a reduction in their fine for cooperating in a settlement.
The three banks charged today, and brokerage ICAP, which the EU says it will soon charge, refused to plead in the December case.
Competition regulator Joaquin Alumunia said the banks will now have a chance to respond to the preliminary findings. If the commission ultimately concludes they have broken the law, it can impose a fine of up to 10 per cent of their annual revenue.
Almunia also said regulators have yet to decide on the next step of an ongoing investigation into suspected rigging and collusion in the trillion-dollar foreign exchange market, the world's biggest marketplace.
"We received lots of information and we are looking into this information...We are not yet at this moment when I can announce steps of this case," he said.
.A spokesman for HSBC said "we intend to defend ourselves vigorously." A spokesman for Crédit Agricole said the bank was still studying the ruling. JPMorgan could not immediately be reached for comment.