U.S. Markets closed

Standard Chartered Bank Hit With $1B in Penalties, Two-Year Extension of DOJ Scrutiny

(Photo: Bloomberg)

(Photo: Bloomberg)

Standard Chartered Bank announced Tuesday it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion and extend its U.S. deferred prosecution agreement two more years on charges that it conspired to violate U.S. sanctions by processing financial transactions through U.S. banks for the benefit of Iranian entities.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the global bank, headquartered in London, violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as well as New York state laws by processing $240 million worth of transactions for Iranians. The bank admitted the wrongdoing, including falsifying the records of New York financial institutions.

In a statement, the bank “accepted full responsibility for the violations and control deficiencies outlined in the resolution documents, the vast majority of which predated 2012 and none of which occurred after 2014.”

Bank chief executive Bill Winters said in the statement, “We are pleased to have resolved these matters and to put these historical issues behind us. … Fighting financial crime is central to what we do and who we are; we do not tolerate misconduct or lax controls and we will continue to root out any issues that threaten the trust we have built over more than 160 years.”

Besides with the DOJ, penalties were levied in separate settlement agreements with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the New York State Department of Financial Services and the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority. The bank said it will pay a total of $947 million in penalties and forfeiture to the U.S. agencies, and $133 million to the British agency.

New York’s investigators discovered some of the bank’s sanctions violations during a separate investigation of another bank. StanChart, as it's known in England, was already working under a 2012 deferred prosecution agreement for previous violations.

New York found that both a senior U.S. sanctions compliance officer at the bank and a senior U.K. sanctions compliance officer “utterly failed to take steps to ensure that transactions from Iran were blocked after bank staff discovered dozens of clients used an internet platform… to access U.S. dollar accounts from Iran.”

Instead, New York said the two executives proceeded in a “business-as-usual fashion,” making a sluggish effort to persuade business managers to block the internet platform in Iran and other sanctioned countries—Myanmar, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.

New York investigators found that senior compliance managers also failed to take any steps to block or better identify payment instructions from customers originating from Iran through a bank fax system at the branch in the UAE in Dubai.

The state said the bank’s compliance infrastructure in the UAE region was “woefully inadequate. Compliance staff were poorly trained and unconcerned with U.S. sanctions regulations.”

It wasn't all bad news for StanChart. The bank’s statement noted that the agreements included no new compliance monitors and that the previous compliance monitors imposed by New York and the DOJ were terminated—New York’s in December and DOJ’s on March 31.

The agreement with DOJ also recognized the bank’s cooperation and its efforts to enhance compliance. Such efforts included expanding its financial crime compliance staff sixfold, making extensive changes to its board and senior management and establishing a Board Financial Crime Risk Committee.

Those management changes included adding David Fein, a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut, as StanChart’s general counsel in 2013 and attorney Patricia Sullivan as global co-head of financial crime compliance in 2014. StanChart did not immediately reply to a request for interviews.

The bank was represented by Denis McInerney of Davis Polk & Wardwell; Samuel Seymour of Sullivan & Cromwell; and H. Christopher Boehning of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Joan Meyer, partner and white collar crime expert at Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht in Washington, D.C., said the billion-dollar penalty and the extended deferred prosecution agreement struck her “as about what we might expect given that the bank had been sanctioned in 2012 for similar conduct.”

Meyer said DOJ will still require detailed reporting on the bank’s compliance and internal controls.

She added that, by terminating the compliance monitors, “it would be fair to conclude that DOJ believes that the current in-house personnel and the enhancement to the compliance department are sufficient to remediate the problem.”

Julie Myers Wood, CEO of compliance consultant Guidepost Solutions, agreed. Wood said, “The government’s decision to the end the monitorship, but extend the DPA, demonstrates a growing, if incomplete, level of trust in the bank’s remediation actions and cooperation over the past several years.”

She also said the latest fines and settlements are “the result of a relentless focus on prosecuting sanctions violations—not only by the federal government, but also by New York authorities.”

General counsel should be aware, she said, that the multiagency review in this case “shows that reducing illegal flows through financial institutions will remain a top priority throughout the Trump administration.”