JPMorgan Backs Away From The Brink With Russia

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JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) has backed off its confrontation with the Russian government, ending a brief if tense standoff between a private corporation and a onetime nuclear superpower.

Confusion surrounds new Russian sanctions

At issue were sanctions placed on the Russian government by the US in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Crimeria.

For its part Russia called the event “unacceptable, illegal and absurd” act of blocking the payment would have consequences for the U.S. Embassy in Russia, Reuters noted. “The confrontation threatened to further strain ties between Washington and Moscow, locked in the worst standoff since the Cold War over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region,” the report observed.

In allowing Russia’s embassy in Kazakhstan to transfer funds in a business transaction with a private insurance agency, the bank briefly exited a game of international intrigue in a mounting power struggle between the US and Russia. JPMorgan’s brief entry and exit is intriguing.  Given the heightened diplomatic tensions, it is unclear if JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) made the US State Department aware it would take such a confrontational action before proceeding, but regulatory coordination is apparent.

“Following consultation with our regulators, we are processing this transaction,” JPMorgan said in a statement reviewed by Reuters.  It is unclear the impact sanctions will have on the US banking behemoth. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) is reported to have generated $55.6 million in investment banking fees from Russia in 2013, according to Thomson Reuters data. Russia’s fees account for just under 10% of JPMorgan’s investment banking revenue last year.

How serious are bankers taking sanctions?

Depending on the circumstance and size of the bank, illegally holding and transferring assets can have serious consequences.  While smaller bank executives have been sent to jail when money laundering was discovered for drug dealers, HSBC bank was given a fine, a percentage of profits, when it was found to have improperly managed assets of Iranian groups and drug cartels who had been banned from doing business with banks.  It is unclear how seriously the bank embargo on Russia was taken by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM). France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, set aside $1.1 billion for potential fines relating to illegally managing money for Iran, a violation of U.S. sanctions, according to the report.

This wouldn’t be the first time confusions regarding US sanctions on Iran have been misinterpreted. Visa Inc (NYSE:V) and Mastercard Inc (NYSE:MA) briefly discontinued services to Russian bank SMP. Other major US banks operating in Russia include Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS), Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS).

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