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Hollande to discuss 'disproportionate' BNP fine with Obama

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French President François Hollande said Wednesday he will raise concerns about a possible US fine of more than €7 billion on French banking giant BNP Paribas, a figure he considers “disproportionate”, with his US counterpart Barack Obama.

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Obama is due to arrive in France on Thursday for talks ahead of Friday’s 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration. He is due to have a short dinner with the French leader before Hollande goes to a second meal with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“I don’t know if he wants to talk about it, but I will talk to him about it (on Thursday evening),” Hollande told reporters during a trip to Warsaw on Wednesday.

US authorities are investigating whether BNP evaded US sanctions relating primarily to Sudan, Iran and Syria between 2002 and 2009. They allege the bank stripped out identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass through the US financial system without raising red flags.

Sources familiar with the matter have said the potential fine could top $10 billion.

Hollande wrote to Obama in April to stating that the possible fine for France’s biggest bank would be “disproportionate”. The French president flagged the need for a “reasonable” approach by the US justice system in close cooperation with the financial regulatory authorities, an official in Hollande’s office said.

The two leaders had since spoken on the phone about BNP.

Hollande’s intervention takes the drum roll of French concern over reports of the potentially huge fine to the highest level, following increasingly forthright objections from senior ministers of Hollande’s government.

Amount is ‘inequitable’

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called the fine “inequitable” in a France 2 TV interview on Wednesday.

Sapin told the TV channel it was neither “possible nor acceptable for us to intervene in the justice proceedings”, but criticised what he too described as 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.

BNP has said publicly only that it is in discussions with US authorities about “certain US dollar payments involving countries, persons and entities that could have been subject to economic sanctions”.

The bank 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.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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