British Bank Accused of Hiding Transactions With Iranians
By JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG
Thwarting controls against money laundering, Standard Chartered Bank enabled Iranian banks and corporations to hide roughly 60,000 transactions worth at least $250 billion within the bank, New York state’s banking regulator charged Monday.
The New York State Department of Financial Services accused the British bank of hiding the transactions in order to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from January 2001 through 2010.
Under United States law, transactions with Iranian banks are strictly monitored and subject to sanctions because of government concerns about the use of the nation’s banks to finance Iran’s nuclear programs and terrorist organizations.
The bank “left the U.S. financial system vulnerable to terrorists, weapons dealers, drug kingpins and corrupt regimes,” the agency said in an order sent to the bank Monday
The department, led by Benjamin M. Lawsky, said that it reviewed more than 30,000 bank documents, including internal e-mails, and that it investigated the bank because it routed the transactions through its New York operations. Under the order, Standard Chartered will have to pay for an independent monitor to ensure its operations comply with state law. The bank will also have to convince the Department of Financial Services not to revoke its banking license in New York.
Standard Chartered did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.
The department alleges that Standard Chartered systematically scrubbed any identifying information from the transactions for powerful Iranian institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran and Bank Saderat, that are legally subject to sanctions under United States law.
The department accused the bank of undermining the safety of New York’s financial system through a range of violations including “falsifying business records” and “obstructing governmental administration,” according to the order.
Suspecting that Iranian banks were using their financial institutions to finance its nuclear weapons program, the United States Treasury Department banned certain transactions between Iranian banks and United States financial institutions in 2008.
The accusations are the latest to strike British banks. In July, a United States Senate panel found that HSBC was used by Iranians looking to evade sanctions and by Mexican drug cartels to funnel money back into the United States.
Together, the allegations raise concerns that there is a broader pattern of illegal money freely flowing into the United States through international financial institutions.
In the Standard Chartered investigation, the order said that the bank’s management created a formalized operating manual that showed staff members how to strip off any information from the transactions that might tie them to the sanctioned Iranian institution.
The order says that executives at Standard Chartered sidelined concerns raised by its management in the United States, company e-mails show.