Payment card issuer, Visa said on Friday that it was the subject of an investigation by the US Department of Justice’s anti-trust division on its practices in the United States around debit cards.
“Although Visa has not yet received an official notice of civil investigation, we have been asked to keep the relevant documents related to the investigation,” the group said in a document sent to the US market police on Friday evening. Visa have vowed to cooperate with the authorities.
This action led to a lose of more than 6% on Wall Street on Friday after press reports mentioned the investigation by the Department of Justice earlier in the day.
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According to the Wall Street Journal, the ministry is wondering if Visa is not using anti-competitive practices in the debit card market, for example by preventing merchants from routing transactions to less expensive card networks.
“We believe Visa’s debit card practices in the United States are legal,” the company stressed in the document to the SEC.
Timeline of Visa’s Anti-trust Lawsuits
This would not be the first time that the world’s second-largest card payment organization have been recipients of anti-trust investigations, with several accusations and lawsuits filed by corporate and government institutions.
In 2003, Visa settled a 1996 antitrust lawsuit brought by a class of U.S. merchants, including Walmart, for billions of dollars. Over 4 million class members were represented by the plaintiffs. Visa and MasterCard settled the plaintiffs’ claims for a total of $3.05 billion, although Visa’s share of this settlement is reported to have been the larger.
In 1998, the Department of Justice sued Visa over rules prohibiting its issuing banks from doing business with American Express and Discover. The Department of Justice won its case at trial in 2001 and the verdict was upheld on appeal. American Express and Discover filed suit as well.
In 2002, the European Commission exempted Visa’s multilateral interchange fees from Article 81 of the EC Treaty that prohibits anti-competitive arrangements.
However, this exemption expired on December 31, 2007. In the United Kingdom, Mastercard has reduced its interchange fees while it is under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.
On January 4, 2007, the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection fined twenty banks a total of PLN 164 million (about $56 million) for jointly setting Mastercard’s and Visa’s interchange fees.
On March 26, 2008, the European Commission opened an investigation into Visa’s multilateral interchange fees for cross-border transactions within the EEA as well as into the “Honor All Cards” rule (under which merchants are required to accept all valid Visa-branded cards).
In October 2010, Visa and MasterCard reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in another antitrust case. The companies agreed to allow merchants displaying their logos to decline certain types of cards (because interchange fees differ), or to offer consumers discounts for using cheaper cards.
In December 2010, Visa reached a settlement with the European Union in yet another antitrust case, promising to reduce debit card payments to 0.2 percent of a purchase.
A senior official from the European Central Bank called for a break-up of the Visa/Mastercard duopoly by creation of a new European debit card for use in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA).
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