Officials from the ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch are to stand trial in Italy accused of market manipulation and abuse of privileged information.
The charges relate to cuts to Italy’s credit ratings during the eurozone debt crisis in 2011 and 2012.
The action is being brought in the small southern city of Trani in Puglia after magistrates in the Italian capital Rome and the main financial centre Milan refused to pursue it after receiving legal complaints from two consumer rights groups.
Five current and former employees of Standard & Poor’s and one from Fitch will stand trial next February.
The two companies have also been indicted for their legal liability through the actions of their employees. They deny any wrongdoing.
S&P said in a statement the allegations were “completely unfounded and unsupported by any evidence”.
Fitch added in a separate note that it disagreed with the judge’s decision and was confident that the agency and its officials would be exonerated as the proceedings continue.
The investigation initially also included the third major ratings agency, Moody’s, but prosecutors later dropped the case against it.
The case blames the release of sensitive reports during trading hours, for heavy losses on stock and bond markets.
Steep ratings downgrades were blamed by many in Italy for undermining confidence in Italy’s two trillion euro public debt, potentially pushing the country towards the kind of disaster that engulfed Greece.
They included reports in January 2012 by S&P, which cut its rating on Italy’s sovereign debt by two notches from A to BBB+, and by Fitch, which cut its rating to A- from A+.