The US Justice Department has filed a civil fraud lawsuit against UBS Group, accusing the Swiss banking giant of defrauding investors in its sale of residential mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008-09 global financial crisis, Reuters reports.
UBS was accused of misleading investors about the quality of more than US$41 billion of subprime and other risky mortgage loans backing 40 securities offerings in 2006 and 2007, the report said, citing a complaint filed with a federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday.
The lawsuit came after UBS rejected a government proposal that it pay nearly US$2 billion to settle, according to a Reuters source.
While UBS was not a big originator of US residential home loans, authorities contend that investors suffered “catastrophic losses” from the bank’s failure to fully disclose the risks of mortgage securities it helped sell.
UBS declined to comment on the settlement talks, but said the bank will fight the lawsuit.
“The DOJ’s claims are not supported by the facts or the law,” it said in a statement. “UBS is confident in its legal position and has been fully prepared for some time to defend itself in court.”
US officials are seeking unspecified fines against UBS under a federal law allowing it to pursue penalties up to the amounts the bank gained or others lost from alleged misconduct.
The case is one of the last addressing alleged misconduct in the pooling and sale by large banks of mortgage securities that were a major cause of the financial crisis.
Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Royal Bank of Scotland Group previously settled.
US officials faulted UBS for having a business culture that placed a higher priority on profits than full disclosure to investors, who were deprived of crucial information about the quality of the loans underlying the securities they bought.
Thursday’s lawsuit quoted a UBS trader who in a 2006 instant message said “our crack due diligence effort is a joke,” and a UBS mortgage employee who the same year complained to his bosses about the bank’s ethics, including that “Lying is ok”, according to the report
UBS was among the banks hardest hit in the financial crisis, and has said it lost more than US$45 billion after the US housing market collapsed.
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