US fine on BNP Biggest Ever for Violating Sanctions Laws
IBTimes UK

French bank BNP Paribas has pleaded guilty for the second time in connection with its settlement with US regulators of charges of violating sanctions against rogue nations.

The bank pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate US sanctions against nations such as Sudan, Cuba and Iran. BNP admitted that it conspired from 2004 to 2012 to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act.

US District Judge Lorna Schofield accepted the plea at a hearing in Manhattan federal court. The plea was formally entered by BNP general counsel, Georges Dirani.

On 30 June, the bank agreed to pay a record $8.9bn (£5.3bn, €6.7bn) and pleaded guilty to criminal charges of concealing transactions worth billions of dollars with the nations that are facing US economic sanctions.

Schofield also approved the settlement as fair and appropriate.

"No financial institution is immune from the rule of law," Schofield said.

"The defendant's actions not only flouted US foreign policy, but also provided support to governments that threaten both our regional and national security, and in the case of Sudan, a government that has committed flagrant human rights abuses and has known links to terrorism," she added.

The bank will pay a $140m fine and forfeit $8.8bn, which is deemed to be equivalent in amount to the unlawful transactions. The settlement dwarfs HSBC's $1.9bn payment to the US over claims of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels.

As part of the agreement, BNP was also temporarily suspended from converting foreign currency into US dollars in New York. In addition, the bank is required to fire 13 employees including chief operating officer Georges Chodron de Courcel.

BNP was accused of using a network of banks in the Middle East, Europe and Africa to mask dollar-based transfers connected to the rogue nations. In addition, the bank's employees reportedly removed records that would have revealed the identity of the countries.

"We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement. The failures that have come to light in the course of this investigation run contrary to the principles on which BNP Paribas has always sought to operate," BNP Paribas's chief executive officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said earlier.

The US Justice Department has been probing a number of foreign banks over possible violations of sanctions and money laundering.

Apart from BNP, French banks Credit Agricole SA and Societe Generale are facing scrutiny, Reuters reported. Germany's Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank AG are also facing investigations.