Competition Commission officials launched extensive inspections without prior warning at the headquarters of the country’s four systemic banks as well as the Hellenic Bank Association (EET) and DIAS Interbank Systems on Thursday, in a bid to probe possible cartel practices regarding customer charges.
It was around 9.30 a.m. on Thursday when 80 inspectors split into squads and stormed the offices of National, Piraeus, Alpha and Eurobank, and those of EET and DIAS, following a warning in Parliament by Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis last week that the watchdog might launch an investigation into harmonized practices. A second raid was being carried out on Friday, aimed at focusing on the retail and digital banking sectors.
Nevertheless the inspections, regarding which a formal announcement is expected on Friday, were not ordered by the government. This was an ex officio investigation triggered by service charges that the banks have imposed on clients since last summer and by complaints that Kathimerini understands the regulator has received from smaller lenders and digital banks. This concerns allegations by credit institutions that rely to a great extent on the cash machines of larger banks and feel they have been particularly hurt by the charges imposed. In that case the Commission may also investigate a possible violation related to raising barriers to market entry. Sources familiar with the case have told Kathimerini that the watchdog has been focused on bank charges since July.
The inspection was neither a formality nor short. In some cases it lasted up to about 7 p.m. on Thursday. The bank officials were forced to stay away from their desks for the duration of the inspection so that the inspectors could collect data from the agendas and meeting schedules of senior officials, as well as from computer hard discs.
The probe is said to have focused in particular on meetings at EET. Legal sources with expertise in competition issues told Kathimerini that for the allegations about harmonized practices to be well founded, they must rely on evidence regarding meetings and communications about the charges imposed.