France's BNP to pay $9 billion in U.S. sanctions case, face dollar-clearing ban

Mon Jun 30, 2014 6:33pm EDT
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By Joseph Ax and Aruna Viswanatha

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - French bank BNP Paribas BNPP.PA on Monday agreed to pay almost $9 billion over charges it violated U.S. sanctions against countries such as Sudan, and faces a one-year suspension of parts of its U.S. dollar-clearing business.

The bank also pleaded guilty to two criminal charges. The bank's general counsel, Georges Dirani, briefly appeared in New York state court to plead guilty to one count of falsifying business records and one count of conspiracy.

U.S. authorities found that BNP Paribas had evaded sanctions against a range of black-listed countries, in part by stripping information from wire transfers so they could pass through the U.S. system without raising red flags.

"Through a series of egregious schemes to evade detection and with the knowledge of multiple senior executives, BNP employees concealed more than $190 billion in transactions between 2002 and 2012," the New York State regulator, headed by Benjamin Lawsky, said in a press release.

No individuals were charged on Monday, but U.S. authorities said they have not wrapped up their probes.

"The case which BNP is pleading to now is against the corporation alone, but our investigation into potential individual culpability is continuing," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in an interview on Monday.

BNP laid out the terms of the $8.97 billion deal in a statement. "We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement," BNP CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said.

In an unprecedented move, the deal with U.S. authorities also included a suspension of the bank's ability to make dollar payments on behalf of customers in New York, which could trigger a client exodus and hurt revenues.   Continued...

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