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BNP given record fine for breaking US sanctions

media US Attorney General Eric Holder (C) with his deputy James M Cole (R) and FBI director James B Comey (L) after BNP pleaded guilty Reuters/Joshua Roberts

French bank BNP Paribas on Wednesday pleaded guilty to violating American sanctions on countries including Iran and Sudan, accepting the largest fine ever given to a foreign bank in the US.

The US Justice Department announced the 8.9-billion-dollar (6.5-billion-euro) on 30 June, BNP agreed to plead guilty, although it had been widely reported beforehand, leading the French government to protest to the US at its “unreasonable” size.

US prosecutors say France’s largest bank hid thousands of transaction with Iran, Sudan, Cuba and Myanmar between 2004 and 2014 in a “complex and pervasive scheme” that top managers knew was breaking the law.

In a hearing of nearly two hours, during which she questioned BNP’s general counsel Georges Dirani to ensure that the bank had not been forced to accept the agreement, Judge Lorna Schofield accepted the plea as “fair and appropriate”.

BNP is to pay 8.83 billion dollars (6.5 billion euros) as forfeiture of gains to several US agencies and authorities and a 140-million-dollar (103-million-euro) fine.

It has also agreed to suspend US dollar-clearing operations through its New York branches and other affiliates for a year in some sectors, including transactions related to oil, where officials say much of the sanctions-dodging took place.

A final hearing is set for 3 October to discuss details of the punishment.

Thirteen BNP employees, including chief operating officer Georges Chodron de Courcel, are leaving or have left the bank.

Other major banks such as Crédit Agricole, Deutsche Bank and UniCredit fear they could face similar action.

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