French BNP pleads guilty in U.S. sanctions case, to pay $8.8 billion

The company logo on their headquarters building in Paris

(Reuters) – BNP Paribas on Monday pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to pay $8.83 billion in a broad agreement with U.S. authorities over charges the French bank violated U.S. sanctions laws.

A lawyer for BNP briefly appeared in New York state court on Monday and pleaded guilty to one count of falsifying business records and one count of conspiracy.

Assistant District Attorney Ted Starishevsky said the bank engaged in a “long-term, multi-jurisdictional conspiracy” to violate sanctions laws by facilitating transactions involving Sudan, Cuba, and Iran.

“This conduct, this conspiracy was known and condoned at the highest levels of BNP,” Starishevsky said.

The bank’s general counsel, Georges Dirani, told the judge that BNP took steps to evade sanctions between 2004 and 2012 that the United States imposed on Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

U.S. authorities have been examining whether BNP Paribas evaded U.S. sanctions, in part by stripping identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass through the U.S. financial system without raising red flags…

The Financial Times reports that a Sudanese human rights lawyer finds the results encouraging:

On the day the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Sudan president Omar al-Bashir’s arrest for genocide in 2009, human rights lawyer Ali Agab fled the country. Security forces first closed down his organisation; then they came looking for him.

Today, as BNP Paribas pays a record $8.9bn penalty for conducting business with Sudan and other countries subject to sanctions, he is celebrating.

“I am so happy to know about this fine,” says Mr Agab, now living in asylum in the UK.

“It’s very harmful and sad to know that those people who are enjoying democracy are using all means to support a regime like this and commit international crime,” he adds: “I think it will have an impact on Sudan because it plays a deterrent to other governments in Europe that are still supporting Sudan.”