Global Financial Integrity

 

Checking up on the Banks: Yet More of the Same

BNP Paribas

Until Global Financial Crime Punishments include Individual Prosecutions, Rogue Banks Will Continue to Do as They Please, Writes GFI’s Joshua Simmons

After the recent spate of massive money-laundering, sanctions-busting, and tax-evasion scandals involving large international banks, sometimes it seems more difficult to name a single bank that has not been exposed for wrongdoing than list all those that have. One might think that, having worked their way through so many financial institutions, investigators and prosecutors would be at a loss for what to do next. The banks, though, seem more than willing to provide more work, with many either failing to meet their ends of their settlement agreements, continuing to move money for criminals and tax-evaders, or both.

Standard Chartered, which settled charges in mid-2012 related to its widespread activities violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, Burma, Libya, and Sudan, paid an additional fine this summer for failing to uphold its obligations under the settlement. The bank may now be in line for even more punishment, after new information seems to indicate additional transactions with Iranian entities that weren’t disclosed or admitted in the original settlement. It’s not presently clear whether Standard Chartered retained a relationship with Iranian customers after its settlement in 2012, but it certainly continued to take their money after the initial investigation began.

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Investors Should Hold BNP Paribas Accountable—Someone Has To

Late last month, the U.S. government proudly announced a deal to resolve charges against BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, for its prodigious violations of U.S. financial sanctions against Sudan, Iran, Cuba, and Burma. The bank agreed to pay a massive $8.9 billion fine and temporarily give up its ability to handle certain transactions in U.S. dollars. Although the case is yet another wholly lacking in individual prosecutions, many hailed (and some bemoaned) the punishment as unprecedentedly heavy—a strong statement of American intent to hold banks accountable for wrongdoing and a fair price to pay for a bank that would surely suffer grave damage to its reputation as well. But mere weeks later, it seems that the severity and persistence of BNP’s misconduct is all but forgotten, while the bank’s customers and investors have already returned to business as usual.

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A Few More Get Fired from BNP Paribas

A couple weeks ago, we wrote a blog post hoping that discipline would go further up the BNP food chain. Unfortunately, the U.S.-BNP Paribas settlement still ineffectively punishes the French bank.

France’s BNP Paribas has agreed to pay a historically large fine of $9 billion for violating sanctions on Sudan, Iran, and Cuba. At face value, this seems to be a big deal. After all, no bank has ever been fined so much for similar crimes.

Yet yesterday, shares in BNP Paribas rose 4 percent, even after the bank pled guilty to a criminal charge. Moreover, no single person within the bank has been charged specifically with any crimes, allowing those who abused executive power to slip away relatively unnoticed. BNP did fire a few employees. Some left on their own. Others faced demotions and pay cuts, small atonements for the billions of dollars that the bank illegally transferred.

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GFI Assails Disheartening U.S.-BNP Paribas Settlement

U.S. Government Fails Again to Hold Individuals Accountable for Wanton Violations of U.S. Sanctions Law, Providing No Deterrent to Future Misconduct

Settlement Fits Same Mold as Previous Cases, Perpetuates “Too Big to Jail”

WASHINGTON, DC – Global Financial Integrity (GFI) expressed skepticism today that the settlement reached between the United States government and BNP Paribas SA would effectively punish the company for its systematic subversion of U.S. sanctions over a decade-long period or effectively deter similar conduct in the future.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced late on Monday that “between 2004 and 2012, BNP engaged in a complex and pervasive scheme to illegally move billions through the U.S. financial system on behalf of sanctioned entities” in Sudan, Iran, and Cuba, going “to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks, and deceive U.S. authorities.” This pattern of behavior continued despite warnings by U.S. officials, opinions from reputable international law firms, and repeated statements from the bank’s own compliance officials that this conduct was illegal. According to the New York Department of Financial Services, the transactions involved totaled greater than $190 billion.

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Someone Gets Fired at BNP Paribas

A few weeks ago, we wrote on this blog that New York Regulator Benjamin Lawsky was demanding that top executives at BNP Paribas be fired as part of their settlement deal for violating U.S. sanctions and money laundering rules during settlement negotiations. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Lawsky was successful:

BNP Paribas has tentatively agreed to oust a senior adviser at the French bank at the behest of New York’s top financial regulator as part of a proposed settlement of BNP’s alleged violations of U.S. sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Benjamin M. Lawsky, who runs New York’s Department of Financial Services, requested the bank remove Vivien Lévy-Garboua, the people said. Mr. Lévy-Garboua has served as head of compliance and internal controls for BNP in North America and currently acts as an adviser to senior bank officials.

It is pretty typical for the bank’s chief compliance officer to be fired after a scandal like this. News reports have the eventual total at ‘at least a dozen’ executives, so we’ll see if the discipline goes farther up the food chain. BNP has announced the symbolic early retirement of Chief Operating Officer Georges Chodron de Courcel, who was expected to leave at the end of the year. No one should mistake that for real discipline, however.

 

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Global Financial Integrity Urges G20 to End Tax Haven Secrecy in Cannes

Over 40,000 People Call on G20 Leaders to Tackle Tax Haven Secrecy, Illicit Financial Flows

CANNES / WASHINGTON – Global Financial Integrity (GFI) today joined over 40,000 people from around the world calling on G20 leaders to end tax haven secrecy when they meet this week in Cannes, France.

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G20 Finance Ministers’ Communiqué Leaves Much to Be Desired Ahead of Cannes Summit

Specific Measures Needed to Ensure that Financial Institutions Become More Transparent and Accountable for Deposit of Illicit Finances

WASHINGTON, DC – In reaction to the recently released communiqué from the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Paris last week, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) voiced disappointment and urged the G20 to move beyond “piecemeal regulations” and adopt comprehensive reforms to create greater transparency and accountability in the world’s financial system.

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G20 Must End Tax Haven Secrecy, Campaigners Tell Sarkozy

WASHINGTON, DC –  A new global campaign challenging French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the G20 to make a firm commitment to ending tax haven secrecy launched today at the World Social Forum in Dakar. Organizations involved include ActionAid, Christian Aid, Eurodad, Global Financial Integrity, Oxfam International and the Tax Justice Network.

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