French bank BNP Paribas has agreed to plead guilty to felony violations of US sanctions laws and to pay a record 9 billion dollars in penalties and fine, the Justice Department said Monday.
The guilty plea is expected at a July 9 hearing in a New York federal court. State and federal authorities accused BNP of violating the sanctions on Sudan by using regional US banks to assist Khartoum in selling oil for several years after the turn of the century.
The bank is also suspected of facilitating payments to Iran and Cuba.
BNP admitted to “knowingly and willfully conspiring to commit violations” of US sanctions laws, after investigators probed billions of dollars in transactions from 2004-12, the Justice Department said.
The settlement will include a temporary ban on processing dollar transactions in some of the bank’s major regional offices, and dismissing 11 employees involved in the deception.
“BNP Paribas went to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks and deceive US authorities. These actions represent a serious breach of US law,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“Sanctions are a key tool in protecting US national security interests, but they only work if they are strictly enforced. If sanctions are to have teeth, violations must be punished. Banks thinking about conducting business in violation of US sanctions should think twice because the Justice Department will not look the other way.” A penalty of more than 8.8 billion dollars represents the forfeiture of the sum that BNP moved through the US financial system for the sanctioned entities. The penalty is capped by a fine of 140 million dollars.
“BNP ignored US sanctions laws and concealed its tracks. And when contacted by law enforcement it chose not to fully cooperate,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said. “This failure together with BNP’s prolonged misconduct mandated the criminal plea and the nearly 9-billion-dollar penalty that we are announcing today.” BNP chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said it was “an important step forward” for the bank to resolve the charges, which have been expected for months.
He called it a “difficult time” for the bank and announced a “comprehensive plan” to strengthen BNP’s internal controls.
“We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement,” Bonnafe said. “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.” The biggest financial penalties in a previous sanctions violation case were levied against Britain’s HSBC Holdings, which paid 1.9 billion dollars in 2012 to end an investigation into combined allegations of money laundering and sanctions violations.