Trial sought for six S&P staff over Italy reports - update2

Ratings agencies accused of market manipulation

(ANSA) - Trani, September 22 - Prosecutors in Trani on Monday asked a judge to send six managers and analysts from rating agency Standard & Poor's to trial for allegedly deliberately misleading financial markets with reports on Italy.
    The reports in question were issued by the ratings agency between May 2011 and January 2012, at the height of the eurozone debt crisis when Italy looked to be in danger of a Greek-style financial meltdown.
    They include a report issued on January 13, 2012, in which the United States-based S&P downgraded Italy's sovereign debt rating by two notches from A to BBB+. That same day, S&P also downgraded their ratings on several Italian banks in findings that another employee at the ratings agency reportedly disagreed with in an email, seized by authorities and given to Trani prosecutor Michele Ruggiero.
    Two other international ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, are also being investigated by prosecutors who allege Italian financial products were downgraded without any evidence to support such an action.
    Complaints against the ratings agency were initially raised by a group of 10 consumers and the Italian consumer association ADUSBEF.
    Ratings by the influential, international agencies can have a significant effect on the cost of borrowing for businesses and government and also have an impact on the size of government deficit and debt.
    Italy's central bank and ministry of economy have said that at this point, they will not be involved in the case.
    Prosecutors say at least four reports were involved and were deliberately aimed at distorting market opinion on the risks involved in buying Italian bonds as well as the viability of Italian efforts to deal with the crisis that hit sovereign bond markets extremely hard.
    A judicial decision on whether to send the case to trial is expected on October 28.
    A similar investigation involving some of the same S&P staff was launched in June 2012 by prosecutors.
    At that time, Ruggiero also put S&P under investigation for alleged market tampering but closed a separate investigation into the ratings agency's Italian offices and the possibility that "false, unfounded or imprudent judgements" unduly affected markets.
    Investigators in January 2012 searched S&P's Milan offices two days after it downgraded Italy along with eight other countries including France and Spain.
    Five days later, Ruggiero ordered a search of the Milan offices of Fitch, which downgraded Italy three days later.
    S&P said then that it was politically neutral and had nothing against Italy or the eurozone.
   

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