France: U.S. $10 Billion Fine On BNP Paribas 'Unreasonable'

Jun 3, 2014

The U.S. is investigating whether France’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, violated sanctions on Sudan, Iran, and Syria between 2002 and 2009.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, says the reported $10 billion fine on BNP Paribas is not reasonable. This comes as President Obama is about to visit France for talks with French President Francois Hollande.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Bellini tells Here & Now’s Robin Young about the situation.


  • Jason Bellini, senior producer at The Wall Street Journal. He tweets @jasonbellini.
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And to France briefly. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the French and American presidents meet this week in Paris. The reported U.S. plan to fine France's largest bank $10 billion could be awkward.

France has gone public with its dismay. The foreign minister saying the fine is unreasonable. It could threaten a free trade agreement between Europe and the U.S., not to mention mean less money for loans for the French. The U.S. says it's going after banks that, like BNP Paribas, violated U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Iran and Syria.

Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal joins us from New York for a brief look. And, Jason, the French are saying they reviewed transactions. They didn't find any violations. How could that be?

JASON BELLINI: Hi, Robin. Well, what's going on right now is that there - this is a criminal case. And so there - we're still talking about this in terms of alleged violations. But what the prosecutors say they've found using data that they got from an internal probe that BMP Paribas actually conducted themselves, is that the bank took deliberate steps to mask transactions that flouted U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Sudan and other countries.

YOUNG: Well, and you say it's a criminal case. We're reading reports that BMP, under these negotiations, could be pressed to fire people responsible for breaking the law. But as you well know, there's a rising call in the U.S. to say, send them to jail.

What - you know, the fine is huge. Firing is one thing. But if it's criminal, why not imprison - why not send them to jail?

BELLINI: Well, it's a complicated matter because we're talking about international geopolitics here, as you mentioned at the beginning. And, you know, the French themselves are taking this not without, you know - without a fight. And it's at the highest levels that this fight is going on.

You've got France's far-right national front saying that, you know, it's regrettable that the French government doesn't have the leveraging to negotiate with Washington and that they're accusing them of, the current government, of submission. So it's a really ugly situation.

So I think that, you know, it's one of things where it's a U.S. and the French, at the highest levels, are going to have to work out what this is going to be. It's going to most likely be a huge fine in the neighborhood - in the billions of dollars. Maybe not $10 billion, but this will be by far the largest fine ever to be imposed on any bank. And there's also concerns, you know, that this could actually destabilize the bank.

YOUNG: Yeah, well, you say it will have to be worked out at the highest levels. The very highest levels are meeting this week - the presidents of both countries. Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal, Thanks for weighing in with us.

BELLINI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.