Charges laid against alleged forex price fixing cartel: ACCC

Australian dollar notes. (Photo: TiVi Tuan-san)

Criminal cartel charges have been laid against a money transfer business and five individuals for allegedly fixing the Australian dollar / Vietnamese dong exchange rate and fees they charged their customers.

The charges arose from a joint ACCC and Australian Federal Police investigation into alleged price fixing by several Sydney and Melbourne money transfer businesses. The charges relate to exchange rates and transaction fees charged when sending money from Australia to Vietnam between 2011 and 2016.

The World Bank estimates that in that period, remittances from Australia to Vietnam totalled about $700 million a year.

“This alleged behaviour is extremely serious and relates to over two thirds of all the number of money transfer transactions, and almost a quarter of the amount of money transferred, from Australia to Vietnam during the relevant period,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Money transfers are an important aspect of international trade and travel and are also used by migrants sending money back home.”

“Price fixing involves competitors agreeing on a price rather than competing fairly against one another. Such cartel behaviour cheats consumers, and does damage to other businesses and the economy as a whole,” Mr Sims said.

“Most businesses in Australia compete fairly and earn their profits honestly, as they are required to do under the Competition and Consumer Act. If businesses behave anti-competitively, others, including consumers, have to bear the cost of their illegal profits.”

“In addition to the very substantial fines which may be imposed on corporations which engage in criminal cartel conduct, individuals who are found guilty of being knowingly concerned in criminal cartel offences may be sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay fines of up to $420,000 for each offence,” Mr Sims said.

Vina Money Transfer Pty Ltd was charged with making and giving effect to contracts, arrangements or understandings that contain a cartel provision in relation to exchange rates and fees for money transfer to Vietnam.

Three men from Sydney, aged 30, 32 and 58, and a 58 year-old woman and a 63 year-old man from Melbourne, are due to appear before Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today, charged with being knowingly concerned with some or all of the conduct.

These charges follow a joint investigation between the ACCC and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and are being prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).

“This is the second joint investigation with the AFP which has led to criminal cartel charges. The growing links between the ACCC and the AFP are increasing our effectiveness and our ability to enforce cartel provisions in competition laws,” Mr Sims said.