NEW YORK, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Antitrust lawsuits alleging the world's largest metal exchange, two of Wall Street's biggest banks and big commodity merchants conspired to raise the price of aluminum will be heard in New York, a panel of U.S. judges has ruled.
Judge Katherine Forrest will hear the case in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, at least for pretrial purposes, the panel said in an order on Monday, the first big hurdle in one of the biggest commodity market manipulation lawsuits in years.
About 30 lawsuits allege that the London Metal Exchange and other defendants - including investment banks Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co and merchants Glencore Xstrata and Trafigura AG - manipulated the warehousing of aluminum in order to lift the price of the metal. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating the matter.
The decision is a win for the LME, whose lawyer earlier this month said it made sense for the case to be handled in Manhattan because warehousing operators took their directions and rules from bosses in Manhattan and London.
Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are both headquartered in Manhattan.
"Numerous decisions regarding alleged anticompetitive conduct in the market for aluminum likely were made in this district," said the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which was asked to decide the location for the case.
The venue of lawsuits is sometimes critically important because of the varying levels of experience among judges in different cities, as well as other factors such as convenience for lawyers and witnesses. Forrest was a lawyer specializing in antitrust law before she became a judge.
Goldman, JPMorgan and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd , which owns the LME, have rejected the claims and said they would contest them vigorously.
Many of the warehouses are in or near Detroit, and some aluminum buyers wanted their cases to be heard there.