Obama deflects French pressure to intervene in BNP dispute

Thu Jun 5, 2014 6:29pm EDT
 
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By Karen Freifeld and Yann Le Guernigou

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama dismissed on Thursday any prospect that he might intervene to help BNP Paribas bank BNPP.PA, which risks losing one of its most senior executives over U.S. allegations of sanctions busting.

New York banking regulator Benjamin Lawsky is pushing the French bank to sever ties with Chief Operating Officer Georges Chordron de Courcel as part of a settlement with U.S. authorities the allegations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

France's largest listed bank would also need to pay penalties that may top $10 billion, sources have said, and temporarily halt parts of its business in America.

French President Francois Hollande has stepped up his defense of the lender, describing the possible penalty as "disproportionate," while his government has invoked wider economic concerns and linked the dispute to trade talks.

Obama, who dined with Hollande at a Paris restaurant on Thursday evening, said that decisions on any prosecution in such cases lay solely with the U.S. Justice Department.

"The tradition of the United States is that the president does not meddle in prosecutions," he told reporters in Brussels.

"I do not pick up the phone and tell the attorney general how to prosecute cases that have been brought. I do not push for settlements of cases that have been brought. Those are decisions that are made by an independent Department of Justice."

U.S. authorities are seeking the penalties for an alleged breach of sanctions via money transfers involving countries including Iran, Sudan and Syria. U.S. authorities are also seeking a criminal conviction for the company, sources have said.   Continued...

 
The logo of BNP Paribas is seen on the bank's building in Paris, May 30, 2014.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau