France’s Largest Bank Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges in U.S., Will Pay Record $9 Billion Fine

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 30 2014 8:03 PM

France’s Largest Bank Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges in U.S., Will Pay Record $9 Billion Fine

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French bank BNP Paribas settles sanctions charges with the Justice Department.

Photo by MICHEL GANGNE/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, the Justice Department announced the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history with French bank BNP Paribas. The bank agreed to pay $9 billion and pleaded guilty to two criminal charges—one of falsifying business records and one of conspiracy—for breaking U.S. sanctions, or as the New York Times puts it: “transferring billions of dollars on behalf of Sudan and other countries blacklisted by the United States.”

“Between 2004 and 2012, BNP engaged in a complex and pervasive scheme to illegally move billions through the US financial system," Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference Monday. “As part of its agreement with US authorities, BNP agreed to fire and not re-hire 13 individuals who were associated with the sanctions violations,” the BBC reports. “It will also be prevented from clearing certain transactions in US dollars for one year from the start of 2015."

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The settlement, months in the making, had grown political with France conveying its displeasure that its largest bank was being targeted. “France has been pressing the US over the size of the fine, which almost equals BNP's entire 2013 pre-tax income of about [$11.2 billion],” according to the BBC. “French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has previously said a fine of the size suggested would be ‘an extremely serious problem’, an ‘unfair and unilateral decision" and ‘not reasonable’." “[French] President François Hollande made unusually direct and personal appeals to President Obama, while several French financial officials visited prosecutors and regulators in Washington and New York,” the Times reports.

“This outcome should send a strong message to any institution – any institution anywhere in the world – that does business in the United States: that illegal conduct will simply not be tolerated,” Holder said Monday.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.