Australia cartel case against Citi, Deutsche delayed by late night witness statement

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian criminal cartel lawsuit against Citigroup Inc (N:) and Deutsche Bank AG (DE:) was postponed on Tuesday after defense lawyers complained the prosecution had given them a redacted statement for a key witness late on the previous day.

Though for just one day, the delay raises the chance of pre-trial hearings running into next year, eroding hopes of a swift resolution to a case that is being closely watched by investment bankers around the world since it may change how they run capital raising.

The two investment banks and their former client, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) (AX:), and several of their former executives are charged with withholding information from investors about a A$2.5 billion ($1.7 billion) share issue for ANZ in 2015.

Defence lawyers had planned on Tuesday to start cross-examining investigators from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which brought the charges, about how they took witness statements from a third investment bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co (N:), which also worked on the stock issue but cooperated in exchange for immunity.

But the defense told the court on Tuesday they had been given what they deemed a crucial ACCC investigator’s signed statement, running to about 100 pages with some information obscured, at 9.30 p.m. local time on Monday. That meant they could not proceed with questioning as planned, it said.

“It is particularly troubling that we are provided with these statements in this way at this time,” Citigroup lawyer Dean Jordan told a pre-trial hearing in Sydney.

The defense had been trying to get information from the regulator about its case outside the courtroom “for a year (but) it’s fair to say the response has been less than helpful”, Jordan said.

“It is entirely regrettable that it’s unfolding in this way.”

The magistrate overseeing the hearing, Jennifer Giles, said the delay may mean the cross examination would run into 2020, instead of ending on Dec. 13 as planned. But she held over the questioning until Thursday.

The ACCC has said the banks colluded on the share issue, at the expense of ordinary shareholders, during two conference calls during the stock issue to keep the stock price aloft.

None of the defendant banks or their former staff has entered a formal plea but all have said they plan to fight the charges which carry prison sentences. Their lawyers have previously told the court they plan to question whether the JPMorgan banker statements were “contaminated” by the involvement of ACCC investigators.

The regulator and banks have routinely declined to comment on the case outside the courtroom.

($1 = 1.4736 Australian dollars)

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