Standard Chartered to pay $340 million to settle with N.Y. over Iran charges

London-based Standard Chartered Bank agreed to pay $340 million to settle New York state charges that it illegally funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran, even as other probes by federal regulators are continuing.

New York’s Department of Financial Services surprised fellow regulators last week when it unveiled a blistering report accusing Standard Chartered of conspiring with Iran to launder $250 billion from 2001 to 2007 to bypass U.S. economic sanctions.

The alleged activity falls under the jurisdiction of a range of regulators in New York and Washington, all of whom were working together to build the case against Standard Chartered.

The authorities involved include the Manhattan district attorney, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. The bank is also under criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

New York’s Department of Financial Services, led by Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, jumped ahead of the group last week by accusing Standard Chartered of violating federal laws. Lawsky called Standard Chartered a “rogue institution.”

In response, Standard Chartered said then that most of the $250 billion were ordinary transactions and did not finance weapons, nuclear projects or terrorism. The bank said only about $14 million had slipped through the cracks.

Still, the charges by Lawsky threatened Standard Chartered’s license to operate in New York — a crippling blow for any bank needing access to U.S. financial markets — and sent the bank’s executives scrambling. According to the settlement unveiled by the New York financial regulator, the bank agreed that “the conduct at issue involved transactions of at least $250 billion.”

In the settlement, Standard Chartered also agreed to install a monitor for two years to ensure compliance with money-laundering laws.

Standard Chartered joined a group of foreign banks — including UBS, Credit Suisse, Barclays and Lloyds — that have been accused by regulators of working to bypass restrictions on doing business with Iran.

“Our investigation continues,” said a Treasury spokesman. “Treasury will continue working with our regulatory and law enforcement partners to hold Standard Chartered accountable for any sanctionable activity that occurred.”

A Fed spokeswoman said in a statement, “The Federal Reserve continues to work with the other agencies on a comprehensive resolution.”

The bank confirmed the agreement with New York and said the detailed terms would be coming shortly. The bank said in a statement that it “continues to engage constructively with the other relevant U.S. authorities.”

The case has broader implications in politics and finance.

The Department of Financial Services was created just last year, and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) put a top aide, Lawsky, in charge.

As attorney general, Cuomo, with Lawsky at his side, was known to sprint ahead of other regulators to file attention-grabbing cases, following in the footsteps of other New York attorneys general such as Eliot Spitzer.

“This state and nation are still paying the price for a failed regulatory system and that must not happen again,” Cuomo said Tuesday in a statement. “This result demonstrates the effectiveness and leadership of the new Department of Financial Services.”

Standard Chartered is only the latest case of banks behaving badly, coming on top of the Barclays interest-rate rigging case and others.

The United States has been escalating its campaign of economic sanctions against Iran and other regimes that it says are sponsors of terrorism or perpetrators of human rights violations.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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