| PARIS/NEW YORK, June 29
PARIS/NEW YORK, June 29 The U.S. Justice
Department is expected to announce on Monday a settlement with
BNP Paribas involving a record fine of nearly $9
billion over alleged U.S. sanctions violations by France's
biggest bank, sources familiar with the matter said.
The penalties, which the sources said may also include a
temporary ban on some dollar-clearing business, could hit BNP's
dividend payout, regulatory capital ratios and its investment
banking targets, analysts say.
BNP is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge in
Manhattan Federal Court on Monday and the U.S. Justice
Department is planning a news conference in Washington to
announce a deal the same day, sources said.
However the lender is expected to retain its banking license
from the New York state banking regulator after negotiations
which, according to sources close to the matter, at one point
raised the prospect of an even bigger fine up to $16 billion.
"I want to say it clearly here: we will receive a heavy
penalty," BNP Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe told
staff in an internal message sent on June 27 and seen by
"However, the difficulties that we are currently
experiencing must not affect our plans for the future."
The bank has not commented publicly on the case since it
warned shareholders on May 14 that the fine could be stiffer
than the $1.1 billion for which it originally provisioned.
A BNP spokeswoman declined to comment.
U.S. authorities are examining whether BNP evaded U.S.
sanctions relating primarily to Sudan between 2002 and 2009,
sources have said.
A $9 billion fine, not far short of BNP's entire 2013 pretax
income of about 8.2 billion euros ($11.2 billion), would be the
largest penalty paid by a European bank to date for violations
of sanctions imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control,
Morgan Stanley analysts said.
BNP has only said publicly that it is in discussions with
U.S. authorities about "certain U.S. dollar payments involving
countries, persons and entities that could have been subject to
economic sanctions". Last month it said it had improved control
processes to ensure mistakes did not occur again.
'FAIR AND PROPORTIONATE'
French President Francois Hollande has appealed to his
counterpart Barack Obama to ensure any penalty is fair and does
not have repercussions for Europe's economy. Obama has replied
that it is purely a matter for the judiciary.
"If there are sanctions, the government wants them to be
fair and proportionate. It's important," French Economy Minister
Arnaud Montebourg told French broadcaster BFM TV on Sunday.
The investigation of BNP operations has turned up billions
of dollars of transfers involving the bank that specifically
violated U.S. sanctions, one source has said.
Bonnafe inherited a bank that emerged relatively unscathed
from the economic crisis and sought to raise revenues outside
its traditional European markets just as tougher financial
regulation made banking a less profitable business.
The New York State Department of Financial Services, headed
by Benjamin Lawsky, proposed the suspension of dollar-clearing
operations as one condition for not revoking the license,
Reuters reported last month.
BNP is likely to be suspended from converting foreign
currencies to dollars on behalf of clients for some businesses
as long as a year, sources have told Reuters. A source familiar
with the matter said on Sunday this would mainly involve oil-
Two sources said on Sunday the ban would not go into effect
for another six months in order to let the bank and clients
arrange other plans.
One source said the settlement would include termination of
about a dozen employees and disciplinarian action for others.
Shares in BNP have fallen 17 percent since it first
announced a $1.1 billion provision for the fine in mid-February
on concerns the penalties could be big enough to restrict its
dividends and hit its capital ratio to below 10 percent - a
level seen as key to staying out of the danger zone under
tighter post-financial crisis guidelines.
(Additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide and Matthias
Blamont in Paris, Steve Slater in London, Aruna Viswanatha in
Washington and Richard Leong in New York; Editing by Mark John
and Paul Simao)