.Top Italian bank UniCredit

By Staff Writer

Top Italian bank UniCredit SpA and two of its subsidiaries have agreed to pay US authorities $1.3 billion to settle probes into violations of US sanctions on Iran and other countries, according to US authorities on Monday.

The German branch of the bank, UniCredit Bank AG, also agreed to plead guilty to federal and New York state criminal charges relating to the illegal funnelling of hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system on behalf of sanctioned entities, according to the US Department of Justice and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

Authorities said the guilty pleas are related to violations of US sanctions programs, including those related to state-owned Iranian shipping company IRISL, which was sanctioned over weapons of mass destruction. US Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski explained that UniCredit's German unit went to "great lengths" to help IRISL evade US sanctions and access the US financial system.

This ends a six-year investigation into the bank and follows London-based Standard Chartered Plc paying a $1.1 billion settlement to US and British authorities last week for similar conduct.

Another unit of the bank, UniCredit Bank Austria AG, has entered into non-prosecution agreements with federal and state authorities. The Austrian entity and its parent company UniCredit SpA have agreed to resolve parallel investigations with the New York Department of Financial Services, the US Department of Treasury, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

UniCredit released a statement saying that the provisions it had already made covered the penalties owed by each of the units. It also agreed to retain an independent consultant to oversee its improvements and compliance program, as part of the settlements with the Federal Reserve and the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS).

Acting New York Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell said: “[UniCredit engaged in] billions of dollars of transactions with clients from sanctioned nations, including Iran, Libya and Cuba, and then work(ed) to cover their tracks to avoid detection."

The regulator said that between 2002 and 2011, the bank disguised transactions by removing words like Iran and Tehran from payment messages to New York financial institutions. The Treasury Department said that these relate to apparent violations of sanctions by helping proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism in Iran and elsewhere.

Ten other banks have been penalised for sanctions-related violations by US and Manhattan authorities over the past decade, with France's BNP Paribas SA paying a record $8.9 billion penalty in 2014.