BNP Paribas close to presenting U.S. sanctions probe findings

By Lionel Laurent

PARIS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - BNP Paribas, France's biggest bank, has almost completed an internal review into dollar payments that may have been made in breach of U.S. economic sanctions, saying it will now present its findings "in the near future".

The review, which according to BNP has lasted several years, forms part of the bank's continuing negotiations with the U.S. authorities which have already imposed hefty fines on other banks for breaching sanctions against Iran and a number of other countries.

"The review covers a significant volume of transactions that, even though they may not have been prohibited by the laws of the countries of the bank entities that initiated them, may be considered impermissible under U.S. regulations," BNP said in the latest update of its annual report that was posted online on Oct. 31.

"The bank is not currently able to estimate without a substantial degree of uncertainty the specific amount or even the general magnitude of the possible consequences of this review, including in terms of fines or penalties, on its results of operation and financial condition."

However, BNP noted that similar probes at other banks have resulted in the payment of "significant" fines.

At the end of 2012 BNP had set aside 1.68 billion euros for litigation risk.

A spokeswoman for BNP declined to comment further.

BNP and smaller rival Credit Agricole both said in August last year that they were conducting internal reviews to check whether they had breached American sanctions but neither have said whether they concern Iran or other countries.

Last year British banks Standard Chartered and HSBC both reached settlements with the U.S. authorities over allegations that they violated the sanctions.

Standard Chartered agreed to pay a total of $627 million while HSBC settled for $1.92 billion.

A spokeswoman for Credit Agricole also declined to comment and referred Reuters to the bank's most recent update to its annual report, which contained no reference to its own internal review. The last update that referred to the review, from earlier this year, said that it was impossible to tell when the review would be completed.