A U.S. class action alleging an illegal agreement to inflate aluminum prices may be just the start of aluminum buyers' legal assault against warehouse owners such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc, lawyers with antitrust expertise said on Sunday.
Goldman, other warehouse owners and the London Metal Exchange were named as defendants in the lawsuit filed last week alleging anti-competitive behavior.
Goldman and LME owner HKEx said the suit was meritless.
The suit fits a pattern of 'follow-on' class actions typically filed after the U.S. Justice Department or other government authority opens an investigation, lawyers said.
"Antitrust exposure is not limited merely to government enforcement but also to private enforcement," said Daniel Sokol, who writes about competition and antitrust law at the University of Florida.
The exposure is significant, Sokol added, because damages for price-fixing are tripled under U.S. law if a defendant is found liable.
Customers and U.S. lawmakers have accused Goldman and other warehouse owners of artificially inflating waiting times to boost rents for warehouse owners and lift metal prices.
Criticism of banks that own commodity assets and trade raw materials has ratcheted up after the U.S. Department of Justice started what sources said was a preliminary probe into the metals warehousing industry.
A class action so soon after the revelation of a government inquiry has at least two purposes, lawyers said: to jockey for a lead position among the many class action lawyers who may eventually sue, and to be in a position to benefit if information leaks about the government's probe.