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BNP Paribas must face revived lawsuit over Sudanese genocide: U.S. appeals court

A BNP Paribas logo is seen outside a bank office in Nantes, France, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday revived a lawsuit against BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) by alleged victims of a genocidal regime in Sudan, who sought to hold the French bank liable for aiding in the government's atrocities.

The 3-0 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan came nearly five years after BNP Paribas pleaded guilty and agreed to pay an $8.97 billion penalty to settle U.S. charges it transferred billions of dollars for Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban entities subject to economic sanctions.

Circuit Judge Barrington Parker said claims against BNP Paribas based on genocide in Sudan were subject to U.S. judicial review, and a lower court judge erred in concluding otherwise.

Twenty-one refugees now living in the United States filed the proposed class action against BNP Paribas in 2016, over its role as the Sudan regime's main bank from 1997 to 2007.

They said BNP Paribas' processing of thousands of illegal transactions through its New York offices furthered the regime's campaign of murder, mass rape, torture and deliberate HIV infection against its own people.

A bank spokeswoman declined to comment.

In dismissing the lawsuit in March 2018, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan said the act of state doctrine barred her from examining the validity of Sudan's official actions, and therefore whether BNP Paribas should be liable for aiding them.

Parker, however, said Sudan's own laws and the "universal international consensus" against genocide prevented U.S. courts from declaring genocide an "official act" of Sudan.

"Considering the lack of evidence introduced by BNPP that genocide is the official policy of Sudan, and the countervailing evidence that genocide blatantly violates Sudan's own laws, we conclude that there is simply no 'official act' that a court would be required to 'declare invalid' in order to adjudicate plaintiffs' claims," he wrote.

The appeals court also said Nathan erred in dismissing some claims as untimely, and returned the case to her.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania law professor representing the plaintiffs, said they will pursue their claims in the district court.

"U.S. courts should never give deference to human rights atrocities such as mass rape and ethnic cleansing," he said.

BNP Paribas' June 2014 guilty plea was the first by a global bank to large-scale, systematic violations of U.S. economic sanctions, the Department of Justice said at the time.

The case is Kashef et al v BNP Paribas et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-1304.


(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas)