August 15, 2012 / 6:42 AM / 6 years ago

Standard Chartered eyes joint deal after backing down in U.S.

LONDON (Reuters) - Standard Chartered is pursuing a collective settlement with other U.S. authorities after backing down and agreeing to pay $340 million to New York’s financial regulator following mounting pressure from shareholders.

Employees of Standard Chartered leave a branch of the bank in central Seoul August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

The bank said it made a “pragmatic decision” to settle having seen its share price slump by more than 30 percent at one stage last week following accusations that it concealed Iran-linked transactions worth a total of $250 billion.

With the New York settlement agreed subject to formalities, the bank’s U.S. lawyers Sullivan & Cromwell will look to accelerate talks with other agencies to enable Standard Chartered to draw a line under an episode that has caused lasting damage to its reputation.

“Negotiations are going on between the other agencies, and we are talking to them. It is safe to assume there will now be a collective agreement,” a spokesman for the bank said, declining to put a timeframe on the process.

Having cut short a family holiday in Canada last week, Chief Executive Peter Sands is now pushing for a comprehensive deal that removes lingering uncertainty. The bank is still the subject of probes by the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Justice Department and New York prosecutors.

Shares in Standard Chartered were up 4.9 percent at 1,437.5 pence at 1330 GMT, still 8 percent below their value prior to accusations being made against the bank on August 6.

“I think Standard Chartered wanted to settle because the share price had become destabilized,” said one of the bank’s 30 biggest investors. “Prior to that, I think they believed they had good legal grounds to resist a settlement of, say, under $200 million on the basis of the history of these cases.”

New York’s Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky had described Standard Chartered as a “rogue institution” for breaking U.S. sanctions by concealing information about funds linked to Iran.

The affair had taken on a political dimension, with British members of parliament suggesting that the lack of coordination between Lawsky and other regulators showed bias against London.

Britain’s Finance Minister George Osborne made a series of phone calls to his U.S. counterpart last week expressing concern at the way details of the case came out. John Mann, a member of parliament’s finance committee, said there was a “political onslaught” in the U.S. against British banks.

Sands initially repudiated Lawsky’s accusations in strong terms. His decision to give the green light to a hefty settlement just days later has been viewed as a climbdown, but he maintains the support of investors and is likely to survive.

“I don’t think Peter Sands’s reputation has been damaged much by the affair. The fact that his robust defense doesn’t quite gel with the size of the fine would be the only real concern,” said one of the banks biggest 40 shareholders.

Simon Morris, a lawyer at CMC Cameron McKenna, questioned why the bank had paid such a hefty fine following its strong rebuttal of the allegations. Sands said last week that only a tiny proportion of the bank’s Iran-related deals - worth less than $14 million - were questionable under U.S. sanctions rules.

“Last week there was a flat denial of wrongdoing, so this would make $340 million an immense penalty for the 0.1 percent of transactions that supposedly slipped through the net,” he said.

“But if you assume some underlying truth in the allegations, then it is a middling settlement - still a hefty price to pay for a continuing license to run a branch in New York.”

The 50-year-old former McKinsey consultant has run the Asia-focused bank for the past six years and his success in the role had even made him a possible candidate for the job of governor of the Bank of England. Earlier this month, Standard Chartered reported a strong first half performance setting it up for a 10th straight year of record profits.

Monday’s settlement offered some relief to shareholders, but investors were quick to point out that Standard Chartered still had some way to go before closing the most regrettable chapter in its history.

“Don’t forget about the other half of the fine - they haven’t settled with the DoJ/OFAC yet,” one of the bank’s biggest 30 investors told Reuters, referring to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. He estimated a second financial hit of around the same size.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Peter Graff

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