Since France's biggest bank flagged the risk of a big fine in
February this year, sources close to the affair have said it ignored
early warnings of the risks it faced. They pointed out that the
alleged offending transactions being investigated by U.S.
authorities continued until 2009.
The French newspaper's report, written as talks accelerate towards a
possible $10 billion fine and other penalties, said Stuart Levey,
then the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial
Intelligence, made a visit to Paris in September 2006.
The paper, drawing on the findings of its own investigation, said
Levey met the bank's top officials, including Baudoin Prot, who has
since become chairman, in its boardroom.
Levey was there not to talk about the legal risks, but to warn the
bank to be vigilant, citing the names of a number of blacklisted
Iranian banks, the Le Monde report said.
U.S. President George Bush had called Iran part of an "Axis of Evil"
and wanted European banks to stop working there. Levey took the same
"clear" message to other European banks, Le Monde reported.
A second set of warnings also came in 2006, the report said, this
time from legal experts, after ABN Amro was fined $40 million for
breaking sanctions against Iran and Libya in January of that year.
Until that point, lawyers Cleary Gottlieb had assured BNP Paribas it
was not at risk as long as it operated outside U.S. territory, Le
Monde said. However the ABN Amro fine was a first - covering
transactions done outside the United States. After it, Cleary
Gottlieb changed its advice to say there was a risk in certain
cases. Two other expert reports commissioned by the bank came to a
BNP Paribas was not immediately available to comment on the Le Monde
The bank has said publicly only that it is in discussions with U.S.
authorities about "certain U.S. dollar payments involving countries,
persons and entities that could have been subject to economic
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It has set aside $1.1 billion for the fine but told shareholders it
could be far higher than that. Last month it also said it had
improved control processes to ensure such mistakes did not occur
The suggestion that Prot had a personal warning from the U.S.
Treasury puts a new focus of attention on him after the bank
announced the departure of chief operating officer Georges Chodron
de Courcel on Thursday.
U.S. authorities - five of them in all including the New York
financial regulator - are investigating whether BNP evaded U.S.
sanctions between 2002 and 2009. Sources familiar with the matter
say they are trying to establish whether the bank stripped out
identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass
through the U.S. financial system without raising red flags.
(Reporting by Andrew Callus and Matthieu Protard; editing by Tom
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