Banks cleared of price-fixing

Cheque charges were legal - Photo: Nika Novak - Fotolia.com

Appeal court orders that €385 million fine be handed back in blow for competition authority

APPEAL court judges have cleared banks of over-charging for clearing cheques and ordered that a €385 million fine be handed back.

The ruling is a blow for the competition watchdog Autorité de la Concurrence which had imposed the fine in 2010 after a complaint from businesses who felt the charges were unlawful.

Now the Paris appeal court has ruled the banks - BPCE, Banque postale, BNP-Paribas, Crédit Mutuel, Crédit Agricole, Crédit du Nord, CIC, LCL, HSBC France and Société Générale - were within their rights to

charge an inter-bank commission of 4.3 centimes for each cheque.

The charge, imposed between 2002 and 2007, was to cover the costs of changing to a new computerised cheque-clearing system.

The banks had said speeding up the treatment of cheques reduced their revenues.

However, the competition authority felt that the banks were acting illegally in concert as a cartel to fix charges.

It said any losses in revenue because cheques cleared quicker - as the money spent less time in their coffers - was compensated for by the reduced costs of clearing cheques.

It added that each centime of charge amounted to €220m of costs to clients during the period the charges were imposed.

Appeal court judges decided that the temporary nature of the charge was an indication that it was aimed to cover the costs of the new system and ruled that the banks get their €385m repaid.

The Autorité de la Concurrence is to decide later whether to lodge an appeal to the Cour de Cassation.

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