(Corrects first name of BNP chief operating officer in
paragraph 13 to Georges, not George)
By Joseph Ax and Aruna Viswanatha
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, June 30 French bank BNP
Paribas 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.
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.
The bank would need to suspend its so-called dollar-clearing
operations through its New York branch and other U.S. affiliates
during all of 2015 at the business lines where the misconduct
took place, the authorities said.
Some of the business lines affected were dollar clearing on
behalf of the oil and gas finance business from Geneva, Paris
and Singapore, the trade finance business from Milan, and for
oil and gas-related clients from Rome.
During the negotiations, Lawsky had proposed the ban as one
condition for not revoking BNP's license to operate in New York,
sources had told Reuters.
In addition, the bank will need to prohibit all U.S. dollar
clearing as a correspondent bank for unaffiliated third-party
banks in New York and London for two years.
Of the total payment, $2.24 billion would go to New York's
Department of Financial Services as a civil penalty, and 13
individuals - including Chief Operating Officer Georges Chodron
de Courcel - would leave the bank.
"This conduct, this conspiracy was known and condoned at the
highest levels of BNP," Assistant District Attorney Ted
Dirani, the bank's attorney, told the judge that BNP took
steps to evade sanctions between 2004 and 2012 that the United
States imposed on Sudan, Cuba and Iran.
French financial supervisor ACPR said in a statement late on
Monday that it "has concluded that BNP Paribas Group has a solid
solvency and liquidity position, which will allow it to absorb
the anticipated consequences of these sanctions."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Aruna Viswanatha in
Washington; additional reoporting by Nate Raymond in New York,
Ingrid Melander in Paris, and Julia Edwards in Washington;
Writing by Douwe Miedema; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Sandra
Maler and Dan Grebler)