Lawsky’s stunning move, which included releasing embarrassing communications and details of the bank’s alleged defiance of U.S. sanctions against Iran, is rewriting the playbook on how foreign banks settle cases involving the processing of shadowy funds tied to sanctioned countries. In the past, such cases have usually been settled through negotiation - with public shaming kept to a minimum.
- In 2010, for example, Barclays Plc paid $298 million in a settlement with regulators including the Treasury Department’s sanctions regulator and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The bank, in settlement documents, said it cooperated in the probe.
- Barclays, like Standard Chartered, was advised by Sullivan & Cromwell, known as the go-to New York law firm for banks facing regulatory scrutiny. The Barclays settlement, while receiving news coverage, was a fairly bland document that listed the bank’s transactions but few insider details, such as emails. Other banks, including Credit Suisse and ING, have settled in much the same way with U.S. regulators.
- One area of sharp disagreement between Lawsky and Standard Chartered is just how much in illicit funds is involved. The bank put the value of Iran-related transactions that did not comply with regulations at less than $14 million. Lawsky estimated them at $250 billion.
- While the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 1979, these so-called “U-Turn” transactions were outlawed only in November 2008 amid Treasury Department concerns they were being used to evade sanctions, and that Iran was using banks to fund nuclear and missile development programs. Lawsky’s order alleged that even as some banks exited the U-Turn transactions, Standard Chartered hustled to “take the abandoned market share.”
- Standard Chartered is the third British bank to be ensnared in U.S. law enforcement probes in recent weeks. Barclays in June agreed to pay $453 million to settle U.S. and British probes that it rigged the Libor benchmark, and, a month later, a U.S. Senate panel issued a scathing report criticizing HSBC’s efforts to police suspect transactions, including Mexican drug traffickers.