Citibank has agreed to pay $100 million to settle a fraud case led by New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood.
Joining New York in the settlement were attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
An investigation by Underwood and 41 other state attorneys general led to the allegation Citibank misled other financial institutions about their status with an internationally used interest rate called LIBOR.
LIBOR, or the London interbank offered rate, is an interest rate used when banks want to loan money to each other. It’s calculated based on several interest rates submitted by different banks, including Citibank. State and local government, nonprofit, and other private entities often use LIBOR as a benchmark in their transactions.
The investigation found Citibank, starting as early as 2008, submitted lower interest rates than it should have to avoid public scrutiny. The bank believed a higher interest rate would lead others to believe they were in trouble financially.
“Our office has zero tolerance for fraudulent or manipulative conduct that undermines our financial markets,” Underwood said in a statement. “Financial institutions have a basic responsibility to play by the rules—and we will continue to hold those accountable who don’t.”
The settlement detailed communications within Citibank between managers in New York City and those responsible for submitting their rates for LIBOR. In one exchange, a manager expressed concern to the submitter over the bank’s high rate submission.
“Given the potential negative publicity that this could have I would go lower (and certainly try to avoid being the highest),” the manager said, according to the settlement.
LIBOR rates are released for a handful of currencies, including the U.S. dollar. The investigation found that those who submitted LIBOR rates for the dollar discouraged submitters for other currencies from going above their rate. They believed the company would get bad press if its LIBOR rates from other currencies was above the dollar rate.
Citibank believed other banks were doing the same, the settlement said.
“LIBORs are not a true reflection of anything,” one submitter said in an instant message, according to the settlement.
Citibank said in a statement after the settlement was announced that its working from the inside out to correct the error.
“Today’s settlement represents another significant step for Citi in resolving its legacy interbank offered rate litigation,” said Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for CitiBank. “Citi has adopted industry-wide reforms related to participation in interbank offered rates and other benchmark rates and made substantial investments in its systems, controls and monitoring processes to better guard against inappropriate behavior. Our greatest priority remains ensuring that we conduct business in keeping with the highest ethical standards.”
Most of the settlement, $95 million, will go into a fund that will be distributed to government and nonprofit entities that may have lost funds because of the incorrect rate submissions. The rest will go to pay for the investigation itself.
Citibank is not alone in recent LIBOR-related settlements. Then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman settled with Deutsche Bank for $220 million last year in a similar investigation. Barclays paid $100 million in their own settlement in 2016.
Underwood’s office said an investigation is ongoing into other banks over fraudulent LIBOR submissions.