The European Commission on Thursday said it was investigating eight unnamed banks for operating as a cartel in the buying and selling of European government bonds from 2007 to 2012.
Traders at individual banks exchanged commercially sensitive information and coordinated trading strategies mainly in online chat rooms, the commission said. Their communication could have distorted the competition for sovereign bonds, issued by the governments of eurozone countries, it said.
“Such behavior would violate E.U. rules that prohibit anticompetitive business practices such as collusion on prices,” the commission said in a statement. Its investigation was “related to certain traders at eight banks and does not imply that the alleged anti-competitive conduct was a general practice” in the sector, it said.
The commission’s antitrust authority did not name the eight banks but it said all had been sent a formal statement of objections.
In a separate inquiry, the commission notified four banks in December that it suspected them of colluding in the trading of certain bonds denominated in United States dollars. That investigation involved supra-sovereign bonds, issued by institutions like the European Investment Bank; sovereign bonds; and agency bonds issued by government-linked agencies or regional authorities.
Deutsche Bank, one of the banks notified in December, said then that it was cooperating and had been granted immunity. It also said it did not expect a financial penalty.
Asked about the fresh accusations on Thursday regarding euro-denominated bonds, a Deutsche Bank spokesman said the bank was not commenting.
The European Commission said on Thursday that it had issued a formal statement of objections informing the banks involved that they are suspected of violating antitrust rules. The banks can respond to the accusations and request an oral hearing to present their comments.
If the commission decides there is sufficient evidence against the banks, it could impose a fine of as much as 10 percent of the companies’ annual worldwide revenue.
Margarethe Vestager, the commission’s antitrust chief, has made headlines in recent years issuing billions of dollars of fines against the world’s largest technology companies.