HSBC Said to Near $1.9 Billion Settlement Over Money Laundering

HSBC Said to Near $1.9 Billion Settlement Over Money Laundering (New York Times, Dec 10, 2012):

Federal and state authorities plan to announce a record $1.9 billion settlement with HSBC on Tuesday, a major victory in the government’s broad crackdown on money laundering at banks.

The settlement with HSBC stems from accusations that the British banking giant transferred billions of dollars on behalf of sanctioned nations like Iran and enabled Mexican drug cartels to launder money through the American financial system, according to officials briefed on the matter. The deal, which will force the bank to forfeit more than $1.2 billion in ill-gotten gains and pay additional penalties, is the largest to emerge from an investigation that has spanned several years and involved multiple government agencies.

The settlement on Tuesday is expected to include a deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, according the officials. The Treasury Department is also expected to join the settlement.

Since January 2009, the Justice Department, Treasury and the Manhattan prosecutors have charged six foreign banks, including Credit Suisse and Barclays. In June, ING Bank reached a $619 million settlement to resolve claims that it had transferred billions of dollars in the United States for Cuba and Iran.

On Monday, federal and state authorities announced a $327 million settlement with Standard Chartered. The British bank, which in August agreed to a larger settlement with New York’s top banking regulator, admitted to processing thousands of transactions for Iranian and Sudanese clients through its American subsidiaries. To avoid having Iranian transactions detected by Treasury Department computer filters, Standard Chartered deliberately removed names and other identifying information, according to the authorities.

“You can’t do it, it’s against the law and today Standard Chartered is being held to account,” Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in an interview.

The settlement with HSBC, the giant British firm, will help the bank put to rest a wide-ranging federal investigation that has loomed for years.

HSBC stood out, even among the scores of other foreign banks accused of flouting United States sanctions to transfer billions of dollars on behalf of rogue nations, according to several law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation. Prosecutors found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi Arabian banks tied to terrorist organizations.

In July, HSBC was thrust into the spotlight after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said the bank, between 2001 and 2010, “exposed the U.S. financial system to money laundering and terrorist financing risks.”

“We are cooperating with authorities in ongoing investigations,” said Rob Sherman, a spokesman for the bank. He added “the nature of any conversations is confidential.”

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