A giant Amsterdam-based bank has admitted that it illegally moved more than $2 billion through the American financial system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian interests subject to United States sanctions and has agreed to pay a fine of $619 million, the biggest ever levied against a bank for such violations, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.
ING Bank N.V. will pay $309.5 million each to the United States and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the department said. The announcement coincides with the filing of a criminal information in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging the global bank with one count of knowingly and willfully conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading With the Enemy Act, as well as New York State laws.
“For more than a decade, ING Bank helped provide state sponsors of terror and other sanctioned entities with access to the U.S. financial system, allowing them to move billions of dollars through U.S. banks for illicit purchases and other activities,” said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
Court documents released with the department’s announcement describe an elaborate scheme dating from the early 1990’s and continuing until 2007 in which ING processed more than 20,000 transactions on behalf of the Cuban and Iranian entities, transactions that should have been “rejected, blocked or stopped for investigation,” the DOJ said. Investigators found that ING eliminated from payment records information that would have revealed the involvement of parties under United States sanctions, and advised clients on how to cover their tracks.
Officials said ING’s transgressions threatened the integrity of the American financial system and endangered national security. The bank used “shell companies and other deceptive measures to cover up its criminal conduct,” in the worlds of Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, head of DOJ’s Criminal Division.
Because of ING’s acceptance of responsibility, the DOJ will recommend dismissal of the charges in 18 months, provided that ING fully complies with the deferred-prosecution agreement. Part of the settlement requires ING to conduct a review of its policies and procedures to avoid future offenses.
ING issued a statement in which it said its officials had worked closely with American regulators to resolve the case. “The violations that took place until 2007 are serious and unacceptable. The facts as compiled in the statement of the Department of Justice describe a very different ING than the company we’re all working so hard for today,” said chief executive Jan Hommen. Hommen took office in 2009, well after the events described in the charging documents.
ING Bank is the parent company of various Dutch and foreign banks, according to the institution’s website, which says ING has about 94,500 employees worldwide, with 68,000 in the banking business and 26,500 in insurance.
For a Justice Department buffeted of late with failed prosecutions and convictions that were later called into question, the resolution of the case against ING represents a considerable triumph, as well as a demonstration of inter-agency cooperation. The Internal Revenue Service and FBI were among the agencies involved.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said investigations of institutions, businesses and individuals who violate U.S. sanctions by misusing New York banks are “vitally important to national security and the integrity of our banking system.”