A bus bombing two decades ago — and a New Jersey father’s quest for justice — inadvertently set off a chain of events that led American prosecutors to accuse some of the world’s biggest banks of transferring money for nations like Iran.
On Monday, that crackdown culminated with the guilty plea of BNP Paribas, which admitted to doing billions of dollars in deals with Iran and other countries blacklisted by the United States and agreed to pay a record $8.9 billion penalty to state and federal authorities.
The trail that ultimately led to BNP began in 2006, when the Manhattan district attorney’s office came upon a lawsuit filed by the father, who blamed Iran for financing the Gaza bus bombing that killed his 20-year-old daughter. Buried in the court filings, prosecutors found a stunning accusation: a charity that owned a gleaming office tower on Fifth Avenue was actually a “front” for the Iranian government, a claim that the prosecutors ultimately verified.
The prosecutors soon discovered that Credit Suisse and Lloyds, two of the world’s most prestigious banks, had acted as Iran’s portal to the United States financial system. To disguise the illicit transactions — the United States is closed for business to Iran — Credit Suisse and Lloyds stripped out the Iranian clients’ names from wire transfers to the Fifth Avenue charity and affiliated entities. The findings led the Manhattan prosecutors and the Justice Department in Washington to announce criminal cases against both banks.
As those cases were coming to light in 2009, a whistle-blower stepped forward to point the finger at BNP, France’s biggest bank. That tip has now materialized in a landmark criminal settlement, with BNP pleading guilty to criminal charges, capping a sweeping investigation into how the bank processed billions of dollars on behalf of Sudan and Iran.The twists and turns leading to the BNP case — a series of whistle-blower tips and fortuitous discoveries recounted in interviews with current and former prosecutors — open a window into the interconnected yet shadowy world of global finance...