BNP Paribas sentenced in $8.9 billion accord over sanctions violations

NEW YORK (Reuters) - BNP Paribas SA BNPP.PA was sentenced to five years probation by a U.S. judge on Friday in connection with a record $8.9 billion settlement resolving claims that it violated sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

A man is seen in silhouette as he walks behind the logo of BNP Paribas in a building in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan formally ordered the French bank to forfeit $8.83 billion and pay a $140 million fine as part of a sentence that also called for BNP Paribas to enhance its compliance procedures and policies.

Some of that money could now go to people harmed by the three sanctioned countries under a program the U.S. Justice Department announced in court.

Georges Dirani, BNP’s general counsel, told the judge that the bank accepted “full responsibility for its conduct,” and was under CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafé’s personal supervision already improving its policies.

“There’s no question the organization will not tolerate the kind of behavior we have seen in this case,” Dirani said.

The case marked the first time a global bank pleaded guilty to violations of U.S. economic sanctions, the Justice Department said.

The sentencing followed BNP Paribas’ guilty plea in July to conspiring from 2004 to 2012 to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act.

The sentence imposed by Schofield followed the terms of a heavily negotiated plea deal the Justice Department announced that month.

Authorities said that BNP essentially functioned as the “central bank for the government of Sudan,” concealing its tracks and failing to cooperate when first contacted by law enforcement.

Prosecutors said BNP also 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.


Friday’s sentencing took place in a courtroom crowded with people Schofield said claimed to have been harmed by actions taken by the sanctioned countries and who were seeking restitution.

While Schofield said they were not legally entitled to that relief, prosecutor Jennifer Ambuehl said the Justice Department would evaluate distributing the $3.84 billion in forfeitures it received in the deal to people harmed by Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

Ambuehl called the effort “unprecedented” and said the Justice Department would shortly be launching a website to accept claims.

But the program, which covers anyone harmed from 2004 to 2012, came as a disappointment to victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

Several victims had flown to New York in anticipation of the program’s announcement. They had cited a U.S. court’s finding that without Sudan’s support, al Qaeda could not have perpetrated the attacks.

“We had hoped that the Department of Justice would stand with us and are deeply disappointed that it chose to delay and not do the right thing,” George Mimba, the former head of the Kenya embassy employees, said in a statement.

BNP’s sentencing had been delayed for months while it awaited word on whether the U.S. Labor Department would allow it to continue to manage retirement plans despite the plea. The department granted BNP that exemption this month.

A New York state court judge on April 15 sentenced BNP Paribas in a related case in which it agreed to forfeit $2.24 billion.

That sum, along with a $508 million payment to the Federal Reserve and a $2.24 billion payment to the New York Department of Financial Services, are credited toward the $8.9 billion ordered by Schofield on Friday.

The sentencing came a day after BNP Paribas reported first-quarter net income of 1.65 billion euros ($1.83 billion), up 17.5 percent. Revenue grew 11.6 percent to 11.1 billion euros.

The case is U.S. v. BNP Paribas SA, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00460.

Editing by Ted Botha