The Department of Justice (DOJ) and a state attorney’s office in New York recently obtained a settlement with BNP Paribas, a large bank based out of France that resulted in a huge fine against the bank. The bank was charged with falsifying bank records to allow it to use the American banking system to do business with forbidden countries such as Iran, Sudan and Cuba. The United States forbids companies from transacting with countries listed as rogues states by the United States government. The government was able to have BNP Paribas sanctioned with a significant fine- about $9 billion. However, BNP indicated it would easily be able to absorb the fine, continue to operate as usual and even continue paying its dividend for 2014. BNP Paribas reported approximately $50 billion in revenue last year, and while the stock price has declined since the announcement of the settlement, it is still well above its 52 week low.
Clearly, this was a significant fine, but BNP Paribas will come out just fine. However, it is important to note that no individual was indicted for this criminal activity. While the company’s conduct was serious enough to warrant an unprecedented fine, apparently it was not serious enough to charge any individual with a crime. Alternatively, when individuals are caught committing similar crimes outside the context of a well-capitalized company, they are most likely going to face criminal charges and prison time. As an example, last year an individual defendant was sentenced to federal prison for helping someone wire a few thousand dollars to an unknown recipient in a restricted Middle East country. The rules for corporations and individuals are still drastically different when it comes to committing major crimes.