PARIS (Reuters) – French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called a possible $10 billion-plus U.S. fine against French bank BNP Paribas “inequitable” on Wednesday, joining concerns about the penalty for alleged sanctions-busting.
Sapin told France 2 television it was neither “possible nor acceptable for us to intervene in the justice proceedings,” but criticized what he said was a disproportionate fine.
“Whether it’s a French bank or a European bank, we don’t want American justice conducted in an inequitable way. The amount we’ve seen in the press, from our point of view, is inequitable,” he said.
“Every time a fine of this nature is imposed, if it’s disproportionate to the facts, for whatever bank it is, it has consequences for the bank and for its capacity to lend.”
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose portfolio includes trade issues, warned that the fine could put in jeopardy transatlantic free-trade talks.
U.S. authorities are investigating whether BNP evaded U.S. sanctions relating primarily to Sudan, Iran and Syria between 2002 and 2009. They allege the lender stripped out identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass through the U.S. financial system without raising red flags.
Sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters the fine could be over $10 billion.
BNP 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 sanctions”.
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 again.
Sapin said he did not know whether Hollande had or would address the issue with Barack Obama when the U.S president arrives in France on Thursday for talks ahead of June 6’s D-Day 70th anniversary commemoration.
But he added: “It’s worth being brought up between two heads of state from two great allied countries.”
An official in Hollande’s office said last week the subject would come up.