BNP Paribas Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy, Other Charges

BNP Paribas SA (EPA:BNP) has pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to pay a fine of $8.82 billion to settle sanctions violations. The New York Times reports that the amount is a record amount for a bank to pay in a case like this. A lawyer for the French bank appeared in a court in New York today to answer the two charges: one for conspiracy and another for falsifying business records.

BNP Paribas Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy, Other Charges

BNP Paribas settles with U.S.

CNBC reports that one of the prosecutors in the case accused BNP Paribas of engaging in a “long-term, multi-jurisdictional conspiracy” to violate the sanctions laws of the U.S. The bank reportedly facilitated transactions involving clients in Iran, Cuba and Sudan. U.S. officials said the bank concealed transactions for clients in those three countries.

In addition to paying the fine, the bank’s authorization to clear transactions made in U.S. dollars will be suspended. The authorization is expected to last up to a year. BNP Paribas is expected to be able to negotiate a January 2015 start date. The bank was previously expected to also be forced to suspend one of its core New York business operations.

BNP Paribas case sends a message

U.S. officials wanted to send a message to all other banks that any bank can face criminal charges. There have been worries that financial firms have gotten so large and so connected with each other that they are simply too big to charge criminally. However, forcing BNP Paribas to plead guilty demonstrates a shift in policy, according to The New York Times.

Officials in France rushed to the defense of their nation’s largest bank. Today’s ruling comes only six weeks after Credit Suisse Group AG (ADR) (NYSE:CS) pleaded guilty to helping some clients in the U.S. avoid paying taxes.

These criminal pleas could have resulted in regulators revoking the licenses of the banks. That would have essentially been the death penalty for them on Wall Street. In order to avoid that, prosecutors and regulators began working on the cases months before they went to trial.