Cuba protests record U.S. fine of BNP Paribas

HAVANA, July 3 Thu Jul 3, 2014 1:46pm EDT

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HAVANA, July 3 (Reuters) - Cuba on Thursday criticized as illegal the record U.S. fine against French bank BNP Paribas , saying President Barack Obama's administration has now imposed more Cuba-related penalties than that of any previous U.S. president.

BNP Paribas this week pleaded guilty to two criminal charges that it violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Sudan and Iran. The bank agreed to pay almost $9 billion to resolve the accusations.

Cuba has repeatedly protested the U.S. trade embargo and other sanctions that penalize companies for doing business with the communist island nation if they also have commerce in the United States. Cuba says the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. legislation violates international law.

Washington has maintained an embargo of Cuba for more than half a century, a policy widely criticized across the globe with the United Nations passing a resolution calling for its end in each of the past 22 years.

"Once again, the United States government is ignoring the sweeping international rejection of this criminal and failed policy against our nation," Cuba's Foreign Ministry said in a statement published in official media on Thursday.

"Moreover, with these actions it is ignoring the growing calls from several sectors in U.S. society in favor of a fundamental change in policy toward Cuba," the statement said.

Under Obama, Cuba said, the United States has now imposed more than $11 billion in Cuba-related penalties, more than any of the previous 10 U.S. presidents who have taken measures against Cuba dating to Dwight Eisenhower, who was in the White House when Fidel Castro's rebels came to power in Havana in 1959.

U.S. authorities said the severe penalties reflected BNP's drive to put profits first, even after U.S. officials warned the bank of its obligation to crack down on illegal activity.

They found BNP Paribas had evaded sanctions against entities in Iran and Cuba, in part by stripping information from wire transfers so they could pass through the U.S. system without raising red flags. With its Sudanese clients, the bank admitted it set up elaborate payment structures that routed transactions through satellite banks to disguise their origin.

"At a time when a free-trade agreement is being negotiated between the United States and the European Union, the question is raised whether this is how the U.S. government will continue treating its allies, and how useful are European antidote rules and laws if they don't apply to protect the sovereignty and national interests and the entities affected by such arbitrariness," the Cuban statement said. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)

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