UniCredit in 'constant talks' with U.S. authorities over Iran probe: CEO

A logo of UniCredit is seen in downtown Milan, August 18, 2014. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

CERNOBBIO, Italy (Reuters) - UniCredit is in discussions with U.S. authorities investigating the Italian bank for possible violations of sanctions on Iran, its chief said after news Commerzbank had agreed to a settlement in a related probe.

Commerzbank will pay U.S. authorities $1.45 billion to resolve sanctions and other violations, the latest big European bank to acknowledge moving funds through the U.S. financial system for countries like Iran and Sudan.

Asked on Friday whether UniCredit could be the next lender to agree to a settlement, its CEO Federico Ghizzoni told reporters: “I cannot answer. There is utmost confidentiality.”

“We are in continuous discussions with the authorities, let’s see how it goes,” he said at a business conference.

UniCredit said in 2012 its German unit HVB was being investigated in the United States as part of a global crackdown on possible violations of sanctions on Iran.

A number of big foreign banks have been penalized for sanctions-related violations in recent years, settling at a cost of some $12 billion. French bank BNP Paribas paid the bulk of that, forfeiting a record-breaking $8.9 billion last year.

Ghizzoni reiterated that his bank was not planning a capital increase. The bank reported a core capital ratio of 10 percent at the end of 2014, prompting speculation among some analysts and bankers that it may need a rights issue to bolster its finances.

“UniCredit does not see any need for a capital increase. That said, we want to further boost our capital base. Last year with small M&A operations we strengthened our capital by 50 basis points,” Ghizzoni said.

Reporting by Francesca Landini and Giulio Piovaccari, writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Keith Weir