French bank BNP Paribas has agreed to pay a fine of $8.83bn (5.16bn) after pleading guilty to sanction-busting charges in a New York court.
According to prosecutors, the bank evaded sanctions imposed by the US by facilitating transactions involving Sudan, Cuba, and Iran between 2004 and 2012.
The fine is almost as much as the bank’s full-year pre-tax income of $11.2bn (6.6bn).
BNP – France’s biggest bank – is also likely to receive a year-long suspension from making dollar payments on behalf of clients in some businesses; an untested and potentially severe penalty.
The New York State Department of Financial Service proposed the ban as one of the conditions for not revoking the bank’s licence to operate in New York.
US authorities have been examining whether BNP Paribas evaded sanctions by stripping identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass through the financial system unnoticed.
“BNP Paribas went to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks and deceive US authorities,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“These actions represent a series breach of US law.”
Assistant District Attorney Ted Starishevsky: “This conduct, this conspiracy was known and condoned at the highest levels of BNP.”
Lawyers for BNP briefly appeared in court and pleaded guilty to one count of falsifying business records and one count of conspiracy.
French President Francois Hollandeappealed directly to US President Barack Obama to demand that any penalties were fair and proportionate, however Mr Obama said it was a matter for the courts.
The bank is expected to be given six months to pay up, to allow it to implement restructure plans which could include lowering its dividend and raising funds by selling billions of euros of bonds next week, according to reports.