By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has dismissed UBS Group AG <UBSG.S> as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing big banks of conspiring to fix silver prices and exploit price distortions at investors' expense.
In a decision made public on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan also said investors may pursue some but not all antitrust and manipulation claims against Bank of Nova Scotia ("ScotiaBank") <BNS.TO> and HSBC Holdings Plc <HSBA.L>.
Deutsche Bank AG <DBKGn.DE> settled related claims in April, and the investors plan soon to seek preliminary approval of a settlement, their lawyer Vincent Briganti said on Wednesday. Terms have not been disclosed.
UBS spokeswoman Erica Chase said the Swiss bank is pleased the court accepted its arguments. Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Amanda Williams declined to comment. HSBC and ScotiaBank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit is one of many in the Manhattan court in which investors have accused banks of conspiring to rig rates and prices in financial and commodities markets.
Investors claimed that Deutsche Bank, HSBC and ScotiaBank rigged silver prices through a secret daily meeting called the Silver Fix, and accused UBS of exploiting that fix.
The alleged conspiracy started by 1999, suppressed prices on roughly $30 billion of silver and silver financial instruments traded each year, and enabled the banks to pocket returns that could top 100 percent annualized, the investors said.
Caproni said the investors sufficiently, "albeit barely," alleged that Deutsche Bank, HSBC and ScotiaBank violated U.S. antitrust law by conspiring opportunistically to depress the Silver Fix from January 2007 to December 2013.
But the judge also said dismissing UBS was appropriate because there was nothing showing it manipulated prices, even if it benefited from distortions.
"At best, plaintiffs allege that UBS engaged in parallel conduct by offering (along with the fixing members) below-market quotes," Caproni said in her 61-page decision.
Caproni gave the investors 14 days to amend their complaint, including against UBS. Briganti said they plan to do so.
The case is In re: London Silver Fixing Ltd Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-md-02573.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)