(adds statement by Popolare di Bari)
BARI, Italy Dec 15 Italian police have searched
the offices of cooperative bank Popolare di Bari as
part of an inquiry into the alleged obstruction of regulators,
prosecutors said on Thursday.
Italian cooperative banks have come into focus after the
government brought in a new law last year which compelled the 10
largest "popolari" banks to become regular joint-stock companies
in an effort to improve governance and profitability.
Popolare di Bari is one of just two large cooperative
lenders that have yet to restructure.
"The investigation aims to shed light on possible
irregularities at the bank in recent years," Bari prosecutors
said in a statement. "The alleged crime is obstruction of
A judicial source said no specific person had yet been
placed under investigation.
Banca Popolare di Bari said in statement it had operated
fairly, both with regards to internal procedures and towards
It added that it hoped that the investigation would be
closed "in the shortest time possible in order to avoid
(consequences) for the lender's reputation".
Unlisted cooperative banks such as Popolare di Bari set the
value of their shares each year by proposing a price that
shareholders are called on to approve.
Other unlisted regional lenders in northeastern Italy,
Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, have been forced to
severely cut the value of their shares when they shed their
cooperative status. They are now controlled by the banking
industry rescue fund Atlante after failing to list.
They have both been placed under investigations for alleged
obstruction of regulators after European Central Bank
supervisors found that the two banks had lent clients money to
buy their shares.
New managers at the two lenders have said it is in their
best interest to shed light on past events and they are fully
cooperating with prosecutors.
(Reporting by Vincenzo Damiani; Writing by Valentina Za;
Editing by Greg Mahlich)