BNP Paribas Agrees To Nearly $9 Billion Fine And Admission Of Guilt

The French banking giant BNP Paribas will pay a penalty of nearly $9 billion and plead guilty to criminal charges for doing business with countries sanctioned by the U.S.

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Banking giant BNP Paribas has agreed to pay American regulators nearly $9 billion dollars to settle charges of economic sanctions violations. It's the largest such fine ever imposed by the U.S. The bank will plead guilty to two criminal charges. It was accused of helping clients in Sudan, Cuba and Iran conduct business in the United States. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The charges were brought after a lengthy investigation that involved the Justice Department, the Federal Reserve and banking regulators in New York state. Officials say that between 2004 and 2012, officials at BNP Paribas processed repeated transactions for their clients in the sanctioned countries. And this did this by altering documents and replacing their names with secret codes, says U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: BNP went to really elaborate lengths to conceal transactions to cover its tracks and to deceive United States authorities.

ZARROLI: Regulators say the transactions went on for a long time. The bank became what one official called a de facto central bank for Sudan. Even after bank executives were warned about what was going on, they did little to stop it, allowing the violations to continue for years. As a result, the fines announced today are several times as big as the next biggest penalties ever imposed on a bank. Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

JAMES COLE: True cooperation might have reduced that price. But that cooperation needed to be full and complete.

ZARROLI: The size of the fine was controversial in France. The French economy minister warned the Justice Department to be fair an proportionate. And French officials even said the penalty could affect the trade relationship between the countries. But in the end, the bank agreed to plead guilty. As part of the agreement, BNP Paribas will have temporary restrictions placed on its ability to conduct certain kinds of dollars transactions. But the bank will be able to keep its license to operate in the United States and begin putting the incident behind it. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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