France's BNP Paribas has admitted concealing billions of dollars in transactions for clients in Sudan, Iran and Cuba in violation of U.S. sanctions and agreed to pay $8.9 billion in fines, reports the Washington Post. The agreement includes a rare year-long suspension of the bank's ability to convert foreign currency into U.S. dollars through its New York office, which could cripple one of the bank's chief functions.
Prosecutors say BNP, France's largest bank, went to elaborate lengths to disguise illicit transactions with sanctioned countries. BNP used a network of banks in the Middle East, Europe and Africa with their own clearing codes to mask dollar-based transfers connected to Sudanese companies. Employees removed information from wire transfers that could have revealed the identity of the countries blacklisted by the U.S. The plea agreement, filed in federal court in New York city, requires the bank to pay a $140 million fine and forfeit $8.8 billion, an amount equal to the transactions that prosecutors identified as criminal. New York's Department of Financial Services identified $190 billion in transactions that broke federal and state laws.