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Bank ruling could spur more Libor-linked mis-selling cases

People walk past a branch of Barclays bank in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville
People walk past a branch of Barclays bank in London October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Steve Slater and Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) - Barclays and Deutsche Bank failed on Friday to remove allegations of interest rate rigging from two lawsuits, opening the door for more bank clients to claim they were mis-sold products linked to Libor.

A British court ruled the role both banks played in a global manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) was relevant to individual cases brought against them.

The decision, made in the Court of Appeal in London, was seen as a test case, the result of which could prompt more companies to bring action against banks, citing manipulation of Libor, which is used to price over $300 trillion of financial contracts around the world.

In previous legal rulings, judges stopped short of saying Libor was relevant to all claims against banks and allowed it to be used only in cases where contracts have been linked specifically to the benchmark.

Barclays is being sued for up to 70 million pounds ($112 million) by Guardian Care Homes, a UK residential care home operator, which alleges the bank mis-sold it interest rate hedging products that were based upon Libor.

Deutsche Bank is being counter-sued by India's Unitech after the bank brought legal action against the property firm last year for the repayment of a $150 million loan and a related $11 million interest-rate swap.

Unitech said the loan and swap deal were linked to Libor interest rates, which at the time were being manipulated by some banks.

Both cases are expected to go to trial next year.

The banks wanted the links to Libor to be excluded from the cases, saying Libor rates were not central to the original legal debate that inspired each case and that claimants were attempting to use the scandal to divert attention away from these core issues.

But Judge Andrew Longmore told the court on Friday: "The banks did propose the use of Libor and it must be arguable that, at the very least, they were representing that their own participation in the setting of the rate was an honest one."

"If the day after the contracts had been made, the banks had told their counterparties that they had been manipulating Libor in the past and intended to do so in the future ... the borrower would arguably be sufficiently horrified so as to think he would be entitled to rescind the deal."

Deutsche Bank said it was disappointed by the judge's decision and would launch an appeal.

Barclays said the allegations of mis-selling Libor-linked interest rate hedging products to Guardian Care Homes were without foundation.

"With or without the Libor claims, the allegations of mis-selling have no merit," the British bank said in a statement.

The rulings followed a three-day hearing at the Court of Appeal at London's Royal Court of Justice last month.

Separately on Friday, Deutsche Bank won a court battle against investment firm Sebastian Holdings and was awarded around $235 million in compensation.

The bank took legal action against Sebastian's founder, billionaire Norwegian investor Alexander Vik, for unpaid margin calls on trades executed during the financial crisis.

Vik subsequently launched a countersuit for $8 billion against the German bank, which he alleged had struck the loss-making trades without authorization.

Judge David Cooke threw out that claim and said Deutsche did not breach any contractual duty to warn nor make negligent misrepresentations that caused losses for Sebastian.

Deutsche Bank said it welcomed the ruling.

(Additional reporting by Clare Hutchison, writing by Sinead Cruise; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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