(Update's with further information from hearing, background)
By Joseph Ax and Nate Raymond
NEW YORK, July 9 BNP Paribas, for the
second time in nine days, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to
conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions, as part of a nearly $9
billion settlement in which the French bank admitted to breaking
embargoes against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.
Prosecutors had accused the bank of processing billions of
dollars through the U.S. financial system on behalf of the
Sudanese and others barred because of human rights abuses,
support for terrorists and other national security concerns.
U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield accepted the plea at a
hearing in Manhattan federal court. The plea was entered by the
bank's general counsel, Georges Dirani.
BNP Paribas admitted to having conspired from 2004 to 2012
to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and
the Trading with the Enemy Act.
The U.S. Justice Department unveiled the record settlement
on July 1, when the bank pleaded guilty in New York state court
to charges of falsifying business records and conspiracy brought
by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
Schofield accepted BNP's plea and approved the settlement as
fair and appropriate, saying the "severity of the defendant's
conduct more than warrants" the size of the penalties. She
scheduled sentencing for Oct. 3.
"No financial institution is immune from the rule of law,"
The plea comes as the Justice Department steps up
investigations of other banks for possible money laundering or
Banks under scrutiny include France's Credit Agricole SA
and Societe Generale, and Germany's
Commerzbank AG and Deutsche Bank AG,
according to sources and public disclosures.
In an unprecedented step, regulators banned BNP for a year
from conducting certain U.S. dollar transactions, a key part of
the bank's global business. It also agreed to forfeit $8.83
billion and pay a $140 million fine, a record for violating U.S.
The criminal charges and plea marked a rarity for a major
financial institution, as U.S. authorities sought to combat
criticism after the financial crisis that some banks had become
"too big to jail."
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office
spearheaded the BNP investigation, said in a speech in March
that it is "dangerous" to presume that the collateral
consequences of charging financial institutions mean they should
never be prosecuted.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Nate Raymond in New York;
Additional reporting by Aruna Viswanatha in Washington; Editing
by Chris Reese and Andre Grenon)