MEP calls for European investigation into "potential cartel activities" at Irish banks

Up to 30,000 people were wrongly moved off tracker rates by 11 banks

MEP calls for European investigation into "potential cartel activities" at Irish banks

Central Bank of Ireland's new Dublin Docklands headquarters. Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The European Commission could become involved in the tracker mortgage scandal after an Irish MEP lodged a complaint with the Competition Commissioner.

Fine Gael's Brian Hayes made the submission to Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – who has the power to initiate a cartel investigation.

Up to 30,000 people have been shown to have been wrongly moved off tracker rates by 11 Irish banks.

Yesterday, the major lenders revealed the number of customers they've identified as having been impacted - and outlined their compensation & redress timelines.

Shocking actions

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Hayes said it is important that “all the competent authorities” in Europe and Ireland investigate the “shocking actions of banks.”

“While we still don’t have all the facts in the tracker mortgage scandal, the clear indications are that there was collaboration between the banks in order to intentionally deny customers their correct tracker mortgage rate,” he said.

“If this proves to be the case, this would be – in very simple terms – a cartel.”

Investigative powers

He said the EC Directorate General for Competition (DGC) has the power to conduct raids on premises, examine business records and question staff – adding that there is a “raft of information” to work with arising from the ongoing Central Bank investigation into the scandal.

“If Irish banks intentionally collaborated to ensure that customers did not get the correct interest rates on their mortgage product, this is effectively an example of controlling rates in an effort to restrict competition in the mortgage market and to share that market,” he said.

“I would hope that if there are whistle-blowers, they could come forward and possibly share their information with DGC.”

Evidence

It comes after the Taoiseach challenged the Independent Alliance – or anyone with information of a crime committed by banks – to contact the gardaí.

Responding to calls from his coalition partner for gardaí to be sent into the banks, Leo Varadkar said Irish democracy does not allow politicians to call in the police and he is glad of that:

“If they have evidence a crime has been committed, then they should report that to the gardaí,” he said.

“Part of the investigation and the probe the Central Bank is carrying out will examine as to whether there was collusion or fraud.

“There is a difference between breach of contract and criminal fraud. There is a difference in our laws between criminal matters and civil matters.”

He insisted the Minister for Finance’s intervention with the heads of the main banks “has made a difference” and rejected claims that the banks had gotten away without punishment:

“We are certainly not saying there will be no sanctions,” he said. “And obviously the Central Bank as the watch dog and regulator is in a position to impose sanctions.”

“One lender has already been fined – we shouldn’t forget that.

“If there is evidence of fraud then there is the possibility of garda action too but our first priority has to be with the 20,000 account holders who are affected and their families.”

The State has a majority stake in Permanent TSB and AIB - as well as 14% ownership of Bank of Ireland.

On the Pat Kenny Show this morning, Helen Grogan - who found herself unexpectedly moved from a tracker to a variable rate with Permanent TSB - called for the Finance Minister to actively participate in banking AGMS rather than, "voting in favour of what the bank wants."