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Milan Police Seize UBS, JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank Funds

Posted by smeddum on April 28, 2009

By Elisa Martinuzzi

April 28 (Bloomberg) — Milan’s financial police seized 476 million euros ($620 million) of assets belonging to UBS AGDeutsche Bank AGJPMorgan Chase & Co. and Depfa Bank Plc as part of a probe into an alleged fraud.

The police froze the banks’ stakes in Italian companies, real estate assets and accounts, the financial police said in a statement today. The assets seized yesterday also include those of an ex-municipality official and a consultant, the police said.

The City of Milan is suing the four banks after it lost money on derivatives it bought from the lenders in 2005. The securities swapped a fixed rate of interest on 1.7 billion euros of bonds for a variable rate. The city said it was losing 298 million euros on the securities as of June. Milan is among about 600 Italian municipalities that took out 1,000 derivatives contracts worth 35.5 billion euros in all, the Treasury said.

“Milan is an important case because it can be used as an example by others,” saidAlfonso Scarano, who is heading a study into the trades by AIAF, a group representing Italian financial analysts. “This is a unique time for borrowers to shed light on their potential losses and renegotiate contracts” to take advantage of interest rates that have fallen to record lows. AIAF will next week testify before the Italian Senate’s inquiry into the cities’ use of derivatives contracts.

The banks reaped about 100 million euros in fees from the transactions, Milan’s financial police said today. The banks misled municipal officials on the advantages of buying the derivatives, including the impact of the fees they charged on the contracts, the financial police have said.

German, U.S. Lawsuits

Officials at all four banks declined to comment. A spokesman for the council declined to comment further today.

Public officials had turned to financial instruments to reduce the cost of their debt and help fund their budgets. Local governments often entered into derivative contracts without soliciting bids from competing buyers.

The Milan case is among lawsuits filed by local governments from Germany to the U.S. amid allegations of mis-selling and fraud. Italy’s Senate is leading a review of the use of derivatives among local administrations.

The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating for more than two years whether banks and brokers conspired to overcharge local governments on similar swap agreements. Alabama challenged a so-called swaption deal last year as local governments across the U.S. faced rising bills after derivative trades with Wall Street banks backfired.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisa Martinuzzi in Milan

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