Spain explores potential antitrust measures from four banks with COVID loans

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MADRID, June 16. (Reuters) – Spanish competition supervisor CNMC said Wednesday that it is investigating possible anti-competitive practices in the marketing of government-backed loans by lenders Banco Sabadell, Santander, Caixabank and Bankia.

CNMC said it has initiated disciplinary action against banks over alleged violations related to government-backed credit lines to help businesses and households deal with the fallout from COVID-19.

This now opens up a maximum period of 18 months for the investigation and resolution of the CNMC case.

The Spanish government approved last year up to 100 billion euros ($ 121.3 billion) in the form of so-called ICO liquidity lines, where the government guaranteed up to 80% of loans. They were channeled through banks mainly to small and medium-sized companies and self-employed individuals.

CNMC said it is looking into whether banks required customers to buy financial products as a precondition for these loans.

Sabadell and Caixabank, which legally closed the deal to acquire Bankia at the end of March, declined to comment.

Santander said he complies with the rules governing ICO lending and does not make guaranteed ICO funding dependent on any product or service. He said he was awaiting more information on the details of the investigation.

CNMC said it is also analyzing whether the loans were used to restructure preexisting financial debt.

This would constitute a violation of the purpose of these lines of credit, as the support was driven by liquidity needs directly related to the impact of the pandemic.

“After its analysis, CNMC believes that the actions of the banks under investigation differ from the integrity required in their dealings with clients,” the statement said.

As a result, their practices could change the economic behavior of consumers who approached these institutions for ICO loans, the post said, adding that it could distort free competition and affect public interests.

1 dollar = 0.8245 euros Report of Jesus Aguado; Edited by Ian Harvey

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