Crédit Agricole will pay nearly $800 million to settle charges related to business dealings in Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and other sanctioned countries between 2003 and 2008. Over that period, U.S. financial regulators say the French bank's New York branch processed more than $32 billion in illegal payments routed through global branches from Hong Kong to Paris.
In Sudan, the bank's client called the Darfur crisis "an exaggeration in the media" and dangled the prospect of newly discovered Sudanese oil riches as an inducement to sidestep American sanctions, according to the settlement with New York's Department of Financial Services. The bank's anti-money-laundering division allegedly gave a green light to the dealings, citing a maneuver dubbed internally as the "Sudanese U-turn exception" -- a complete fabrication, according to regulators.
For its Iran dealings, the bank allegedly had written policies requiring employees to wipe away any indications that the money passing through the bank's New York branch had originated in a sanctioned country. "The method for [U.S. dollar] payments is as follows: no mention of Iran is made on this instruction," one internal memo read, according to the settlement.
In addition to the $787 million monetary penalty, the settlement required Crédit Agricole to install a monitor over its anti-money-laundering department. Four other U.S. regulatory and law enforcement agencies joined in on the settlement, including the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.
Crédit Agricole, the third-largest bank in Europe, became the 11th lender to settle with U.S. authorities over lapses in its money-laundering controls in the mid-2000s. The bank's French rival BNP Paribas settled for $8.9 billion -- more than 10 times Crédit Agricole's settlement -- in 2014 over similar alleged violations.
Though most of the employees involved in the alleged wrongdoing had left the bank, the settlement mandated the termination of a managing director who reportedly wrote a 2005 memo titled "Special Treatment of Iranian Related Payments."