U.S. law enforcement officials announced Wednesday that they have reached an agreement with one of the world's largest global banks - Credit Suisse - on an investigation involving Iran and other countries trying to evade long-standing U.S. economic sanctions.
Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a fine of $536 million in connection with a probe into violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran and other countries.
The agreement was detailed at a news conference here in Washington by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Credit Suisse, like all other major global banks, knew well that the United States would not process financial transactions from individuals or companies in places like Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba," said Eric Holder. "But rather than adhere to the law and decline to serve these customers, Credit Suisse established a business model to allow these rogue players access to United States dollars."
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer described the company's conduct as egregious over a period of several years. He said Credit Suisse moved hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system for countries trying to evade U.S. laws, especially Iran.
"The manner in which Credit Suisse carried out its illegal activities is quite simply stunning," said Lanny Breuer. "The bank's actions ranged from stripping out or redacting the word 'Iran' from payment messages, to substituting code words and abbreviations for Iranian customer names."
Stuart Levey is the Treasury Department's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. He said international financial institutions need to be wary of Iran's desire to evade economic sanctions.
"This case also provides a critical and timely lesson about the Iranian government's use of deceptive practices to evade sanctions, and the fact that banks that do business with Iran expose themselves to the risk of being involved in Iran's proliferation and terrorism activities," said Stuart Levey.
Officials say the fine levied on Credit Suisse could have been worse had the company not cooperated after the investigation began. They also say the company has already made policy changes to bring it into compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.
Attorney General Holder said the case should send a strong signal to the rest of the world.
"Credit Suisse's decades-long scheme to flout the rules that govern our financial institutions robbed our system of the legitimacy that is fundamental to its success," he said. "We cannot let this stand. And today's settlement sends a strong message that we will not let it stand."
The settlement with the Swiss banking giant is the largest penalty ever assessed by the U.S. officials responsible for monitoring sanctions violations.