Bank of China pays 600,000 euros to close Italy money laundering case

FLORENCE, Italy, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Bank of China (BOC) on Friday agreed to pay a 600,000 euro fine to settle a money laundering case involving its Milan branch, court documents seen by Reuters showed.

The Florence court hearing the case gave four employees of the Milan branch of China’s fourth biggest bank a suspended two-year prison sentence for failing to report illicit money transfers.

Florence prosecutors leading the so-called “River of Money” investigation alleged that more than 4.5 billion euros ($4.78 billion) was smuggled to China from Italy between 2006 and 2010 by Chinese people living mainly in Florence and nearby Prato.

About half of the money was sent via BOC, the prosecutors said.

The court also ordered BOC to pay back 980,000 euros which it said it had earned through the illegal operations.

According to the prosecutors, the proceeds sent to China came from a series of illegal activities, including counterfeiting, embezzlement, exploitation of illegal labour and tax evasion.

Bank of China said in a statement it had not committed any crime and was not admitting guilt by agreeing to pay the fine, which was a way of closing the case and saving time.

“The settlement is due to our desire to avoid a long trial and allow the Milan branch of Bank of China to concentrate on developing its business,” the statement said. ($1 = 0.9423 euros) (Reporting by Silvia Ognibene, writing by Gavin Jones, editing by David Evans)