Credit Agricole to pay $787 million to resolve U.S. sanctions probe

NEW YORK/PARIS (Reuters) - France’s Credit Agricole SA has agreed to pay $787 million for moving hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system in violation of sanctions against Iran, Sudan, and other countries, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.

A Credit Agricole sign is pictured on a building of the bank in Geneva November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The bank omitted information from wire transactions and otherwise masked unlawful payments on behalf of sanctioned entities between 2003 and 2008, the authorities said.

As part of the deal, Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank (CA-CIB), a subsidiary, entered into deferred prosecution agreements with state and federal authorities.

Credit Agricole, France’s third-biggest lender, said the penalty would be allocated to its pre-existing reserve and will not affect accounts for the second half of 2015.

The subsidiary was charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and Trading with the Enemy Act, and falsifying the records of New York financial institutions, authorities said.

The deferred prosecution agreements, which run for three years, allow the Paris-based bank to avoid criminal convictions if it complies with their terms.

New York’s banking regulator said it has ordered the bank to fire an unidentified managing director who drafted a 2005 memo detailing the bank’s policy for Iranian clients, dubbed “Special Treatment of Iranian Related Payments.”

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Most of the employees involved in the misconduct are no longer at the bank, the New York Department of Financial Services said.

Credit Agricole has also agreed to hire an independent monitor and to strengthen its compliance programs.

The bulk of the illegal clients were from Sudan, authorities said, including one who described the crisis in the Darfur region as “an exaggeration in the media,” the New York banking regulator said.

Credit Agricole, through its subsidiaries in Geneva, Switzerland, knowingly moved approximately $312 million through the U.S. financial system on behalf of the sanctioned entities, prosecutors said.

Authorities involved in the $787 million deal included the Manhattan District Attorney, the U.S. Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, New York’s Department of Financial Services and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.

Credit Agricole will pay $385 million to New York’s DFS, which could have revoked its license to operate in the state. Federal and state prosecutors will split $312 million, and the Federal Reserve will get $90.3 million. The Treasury Department’s $329 million penalty is deemed satisfied by the other payments.

Credit Agricole has already made provisions totaling 1.6 billion euros ($1.82 billion) against litigation costs after taking a further 350 million euro charge related to the U.S. investigation in its second-quarter results.

Credit Agricole is the latest of about a dozen mostly European international banks penalized in recent years for sanctions-related violations, forfeiting some $14 billion.

Other banks that have reached agreements include Germany’s Commerzbank AG, Amsterdam-based ING Bank NV, Barclays Plc and Switzerland’s Credit Suisse Group AG. Standard Chartered paid $667 million in penalties to U.S. authorities in 2012, and another $300 million last year. It is still under investigation for banking Iranian-controlled entities in Dubai, sources have told Reuters. BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, last year paid a record-breaking $8.9 billion in penalties and pleaded guilty to criminal charges over sanctions-busting. It was also banned from conducting certain U.S. dollar transactions for a year.

Shares in Credit Agricole closed down 0.9 percent on Tuesday, when the Stoxx Europe 600 banking sector index <0#.SX7P> was down 0.6 percent.

Additional Editing by Greg Mahlich, Tom Brown and Carmel Crimmins