Hit or Miss? BNP Paribas pleads guilty over US sanction violations

France's largest bank BNP Paribas this week agreed to pay a $8.97bn settlement over US allegations of sanctions violations, the largest settlement for a such a case in US history.

BNP Paribas: Admitting guilt over US sanction violations
BNP Paribas: Admitting guilt over US sanction violations

The bank will plead guilty to two criminal charges of breaking US sanctions against trade with Sudan, Iran and Cuba. It will also be prevented from clearing certain transactions in US dollars for one year from the start of 2015.

BNP Paribas CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafe expressed regret at the misconduct but added that the bank would "once again post solid results this quarter" and "remains focused on implementing its 2014-2016 business development plan".

However, commentators in the media have suggested the affair could mean a stain on the bank's reputation.

How I see it

Edward Amory, board director, corporate, Freuds

According to The Economist, the money is only part of the cost to the bank, whose reputation has been damaged  by "duplicitous behaviour on behalf of brutal clients". Media condemnation, from The Guardian to Forbes, has followed. 

But the firm’s share price rose on the news. So who is right, the markets or the media?

In fact, this is really a story about politics, about the US determination to impose its political views on firms based overseas. BNP Paribas can’t object, because it needs to trade in New York. And because the Sudan, at least, was a notably unsavoury regime. 

In time, there will be more stories that demonstrate why greedy bankers can’t be trusted, but this isn’t one of them. The media are well wide of the mark. BNP Paribas merely behaved like the hard-nosed French bank that it is.

Its reputation with those who matter – its core customer base - is unlikely to be seriously damaged, which is why the share price has risen. Its relatively low key public response was the right one.

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