The Competition Appeals Court’s recent dismissal of the Competition Commission’s rand manipulation case has ignited concerns about the lack of transparency within the banking sector. The case, which dates back to 2017, implicated numerous local and international banks in rigged trades involving the rand/dollar pair.

The Competition Commission had alleged that the price-fixing activities adversely impacted various aspects of the economy, including imports and exports, foreign direct investment, public and private debt, and company balance sheets. Last year, Standard Chartered settled with the commission, agreeing to pay R43 million for its role in the scandal, bringing the issue back into the spotlight.

However, the recent court ruling dismissed the case against most banks accused of involvement, citing a lack of evidence, a lack of jurisdiction, and overreach on the part of the Competition Commission. The decision has sparked criticism from industry experts and raised questions about the effectiveness of regulatory oversight.

Harry Scherzer, CEO of Future Forex, expressed his concerns about the ruling, emphasizing the potential lack of transparency within the banking sector. “It is highly concerning to see major banks like FNB, Standard Bank, and Nedbank being let off the hook due to a lack of direct evidence, especially when Standard Chartered has already been fined for similar wrongdoing,” Scherzer commented.

Scherzer went on to suggest that market manipulation of this scale likely involves most, if not all, of South Africa’s major banks. He raised suspicions about the influence of the banks’ legal teams, stating, “It feels like a real let-off, and it’s likely due to the size of the legal teams of these banks.”

The dismissal of the case has fueled calls for increased transparency and confidence in the financial system. Scherzer stressed the importance of maintaining public trust in both the banking system and the regulatory bodies overseeing it. “Decisions like these erode the trust that citizens place in the banking system as well as the regulatory bodies that govern them,” he added.

In response to the ruling, Standard Bank, South Africa’s largest bank by income, welcomed the decision while reiterating its commitment to the rule of law. “Standard Bank remains committed to supporting the work of regulators, including the Competition Commission. Standard Bank reiterates its belief in and respect for South Africa’s institutions generally and its well-functioning and sound judicial system,” the group stated.