US seeks $10 billion penalty from BNP over sanctions probe - report

Friday 30 May 2014 11.16
BNP Paribas has aside just €2.7 billion ($3.68 billion) for litigation-related costs
BNP Paribas has aside just €2.7 billion ($3.68 billion) for litigation-related costs

The US Justice Department is pushing BNP Paribas to pay more than $10 billion to resolve a criminal probe into allegations that the French bank evaded US sanctions against Iran and other countries for years. 

This is according to reports in the Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter. 

Sources told Reuters earlier this month that US authorities were seeking more than $5 billion from the French bank. 

The Journal said the final settlement amount could be less than $10 billion. But the multi-billion dollar figure would put the fine among the largest penalties imposed on a bank and is far higher than what BNP has provisioned for. 

Overall, the bank has set aside around €2.7 billion ($3.68 billion) for litigation-related costs. 

The $10 billion settlement figure would represent a "hit" of around 5% to the bank's tangible book value, Citigroup analysts said in a research note. 

Prosecutors have also pushed the bank to plead guilty to criminal charges as part of a resolution, sources have previously said. 

The Journal said limited fallout of a guilty plea earlier this month by Credit Suisse Group has encouraged US prosecutors. Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to a US criminal charge and agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in penalties for helping Americans evade taxes.  

In early May, BNP Paribas chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe and the bank's lawyers met with the New York Department of Financial Services, one of the authorities involved in the probe, and made a plea for leniency, one source said earlier this month.

The source said the regulator would not revoke the bank's license if other stiff penalties were included in the settlement. Such penalties, however, could include temporarily suspending dollar clearing through New York and terminating more than a dozen employees.

The bank has expressed concerns about the prospect of such a suspension, telling authorities that its inability to clear dollar transactions could destabilise it, the Journal reported.

North America is a key part of BNP's new strategy to increase profits outside Europe. It aims for the region to account for 12% of its 2016 revenues, up from 10% in 2013. 

A final resolution of the BNP Paribas investigation is likely weeks away, the Journal added.