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BlackRock, PIMCO said to plan new front in bank FX-rigging cases

Some of the world's biggest investors are working with a U.S. law firm to prepare a fresh wave of litigation against banks accused of rigging foreign-exchange markets.

BlackRock (BLK), Pacific Investment Management Co. and hedge fund BlueCrest Capital Management are working with law firm Quinn Emanuel to recover losses they blame on the manipulation of currency benchmarks, according to two people familiar with the case, who asked not to be identified because nothing has been filed.

The target banks, including Barclays, Citigroup, HSBC Holdings, J.P. Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and UBS Group, have been fined billions of dollars for conspiring to rig FX benchmarks. The firm, which will probably file lawsuits in London and New York, is trying to attract additional investors, the people said.

Quinn Emanuel's clients will likely opt out of an existing New York class action over currency manipulation that won a total of about $2 billion in settlements from HSBC, Barclays, RBS, Goldman Sachs Group (GS) and others in 2015, according to people with knowledge of the firm's strategy.

Opting out of the class action would allow large investors to seek higher settlements by pursuing a global strategy that includes the recovery of losses from London, where a significant portion of global trades are settled. The existing class action is limited to transactions that took place in New York.

The two law firms that are running the existing U.S. lawsuit, Hausfeld and Scott + Scott, won't give up control of the case without a fight.

In an April 24 letter emailed to U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield, lawyers complained that "certain unnamed law firms were sending false and misleading communications to class members to persuade them to opt out of the settlements," the judge said in a court order Thursday. She set a May 12 deadline for the two firms to make a formal request as to what she should do in response.

Officials at Scott + Scott and Jim Baxter, a spokesman for Quinn Emanuel in London, declined to immediately comment. A lawyer for Hausfeld in the U.K. couldn't immediately be reached to comment.

The $62 billion Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, Boston, and $202.8 billion California State Teachers' Retirement System, West Sacramento, are also considering signing up to the new action.

“CalSTRS is a member of the FX market manipulation antitrust class and has been evaluating its options, including potentially using Quinn Emanuel or another law firm to file an opt-out case, but has not yet committed to do so,” Brian J. Bartow, CalSTRS' general counsel, said in a statement. “At the moment, CalSTRS remains a member of the class.”

Other investor groups either declined to comment or didn't return calls and emails seeking comment.

Banks have paid about $10 billion in fines to global authorities over the last few years to resolve allegations traders tried to manipulate key foreign-exchange benchmarks such as the 4 p.m. WM/Reuters and 1:15 p.m. European Central Bank fixes. The settlements, some of which included guilty pleas in the U.S., came after dozens of individuals were suspended or fired over the behavior.

The latest legal campaign threatens to give new impetus to the benchmark rigging scandal, and may force banks into paying significantly higher legal settlements.

Banks including UBS, HSBC and RBS declined to comment. Other lenders didn't immediately reply to requests for comment on the lawsuits.

At least five people have also been charged in the U.S., including three members of a chat room dubbed “the cartel” that was the focus of the investigation. Some of the men are in talks with the Justice Department on voluntarily coming to the U.S. to fight the charges, Bloomberg reported last month. A fourth member of the group has been cooperating with prosecutors.