The United States Justice Department is expected to settle with BNP Paribas today for a record fine of about $9 billion, for violating U.S. sanctions against Sudan. BNP, one of France's largest banks, was involved in billions of dollars worth transfers between 2002 and 2009, which directly violated sanctions.
Beyond the fine, the settlement may also include a ban on dollar clearing business, which would affect BNP's dividend payout and their investment banking business. Restrictions on dollar clearing would prevent BNP from making transfers of foreign currency into dollars, but only for certain clients (likely oil and gas.) It is expected some employees will be fired for this, and others will face disciplinary action. Regardless of the details of the settlement, BNP should have about six months before these new restrictions go into into effect, allowing them to plan accordingly.
BNP is also expected to do what few banks ever do: admit their wrongdoing. The guilty plea would come in a Manhattan federal court today. While BNP may plead their guilt in New York, they are expected to keep their banking license in the state. Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s top financial regulator, suggested that BNP be allowed to keep their license if they agreed to the temporary bank on dollar clearing.
In 2013, BNP's net profit was just $6.5 billion, so a $9 billion fine would certainly be brutal, even for such a high-profit institution. While the settlement is quite large, BNP Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe is still looking further ahead. "I want to say it clearly here: we will receive a heavy penalty," he wrote in an internal staff memo obtained by Reuters. "However, the difficulties that we are currently experiencing must not affect our plans for the future."