BNP Paribas, France's biggest bank, pleaded guilty to U.S. charges and agreed to give up a record $8.8 billion for violating U.S. sanction laws. Conway G. Gittens reports.
You do the crime, you pay the fine. BNP is paying up $8.83 billion, which is pretty close to all of the bank's pre-tax profit last year. This is more than just a slap on the wrist, says Columbia University Business Law Professor John Coffee. SOUNDBITE: JOHN COFFEE, BUSINESS LAW PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY (ENGLISH) SAYING: "This is probably the most complete settlement yet. It shows the new style of U.S. enforcers. Not only is the corporation paying a record fine for a European bank - just under $9 billion, but in addition it is pleading guilty to a felony. That's something other banks like HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland escaped last year, when their own misconduct was probably more serious." BNP's crime - helping Iran, Sudan and Cuba go around U.S. sanctions for eight years. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: SOUNDBITE: U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Banks thinking about conducting business in violation of United States sanctions should think twice before they do so because the Justice Department will not look the other way. In this case, BNP went to really elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions to cover its tracks and to deceive U.S. authorities." In addition to the fines and the guilty plea, BNP will not be allowed to conduct certain U.S. dollar transactions for one year beginning next January, taking aim at the bank's oil and gas finance business. And some senior executives have been forced out. Coffee says in total, this action is a signal that the U.S. is playing hard ball with banks abroad and at home. SOUNDBITE: JOHN COFFEE, BUSINESS LAW PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I think the American public wants what it sees today. There was general dissatisfaction last year when Attorney General Holder, he didn't really say this, he implied this, that there were some banks that were too big to jail. And I think that the public reaction to that, which was highly negative has produced a change in attitude we've seen all this year; U.S. regulators being tough to JPMorgan, Bank of America and now in succession Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas." Despite the guilty pleas and the fines and the firings - the bank did score one small victory - its New York State banking license was not revoked and the company says the agreement won't hinder its ability to serve the vast majority of its clients.