French bank Crédit Agricole has agreed to pay $787 million to settle charges that it violated U.S. sanctions laws by processing more than $32 billion in dollar payments on behalf of Sudanese, Iranian, Burmese, and Cuban clients.
The settlement resolves a joint criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice and also includes civil monetary penalties imposed by banking regulators. Crédit Agricole could be subject to prosecution if it violates any of the settlement’s terms over the next three years.
“With this resolution … my office and our partners are sending a clear message that financial institutions must comply with sanctions against rogue nations,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a news release.
The New York Times reported that the case marks the final chapter of a long-running investigation into sanctions violations across the banking industry, “typically involving European banks that provided clients access to the United States financial system through their New York branches.”
Ten other global banks have entered into similar settlements over the past six years. Last year, U.S. prosecutors obtained a guilty plea and a record $8.9 billion fine from BNP Paribas SA, France’s biggest bank.
But the Times also noted that “no Crédit Agricole employees face criminal charges. That inherent contradiction — a case that features huge financial penalties for the bank and no charges for its employees — underscores a conundrum for prosecutors struggling to pin criminal wrongdoing on individuals, even after the Justice Department recently announced new policies aimed at increasing such prosecutions.”
The illicit transactions involving Crédit Agricole occurred between 2003 and 2008. According to prosecutors, employees at the bank’s Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank subsidiary allowed transactions on behalf of Sudan, Iran, Burma and Cuba to flow through the U.S. — and covered up the deals to hide clients’ identities.
One client, who was urging the bank to continue processing payments connected to Sudan, referred to the crisis in the country’s Darfur region as “an exaggeration in the media.”