WASHINGTON, June 17, CMC – Dutch bank ING has agreed to pay 619 US million dollars in fines to the United States government for violating US sanctions on Cuba, the US Department of Justice said here.
The fine is the largest ever assessed against a financial institution for violating the sanctions imposed on the socialist island government in a half-century-old economic blockade, tightened in the wake of 9/11.
The department claimed that ING secretly moved more than two billion US through US financial institutions in 20,000 transactions from the early 1990s up to 2007 from Cuba and Iran – two countries on Washington’s list of countries accused of bankrolling terrorists.
“ING Bank helped provide state sponsors of terror and other sanctioned entities with access to the US financial system, allowing them to move billions of dollars,” said Assistant US Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco.
Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan are on the US list of countries under sanctions for supporting international terrorism.
But the half-century-old US trade embargo against Havana also prohibits Cuban entities from using US dollars in their transactions.
The Justice Department said ING fabricated endorsement stamps so that two Cuban banks could fraudulently process dollar-denominated travellers checks, and advised Cuban and Iranian clients on how to conceal transactions.
The department said senior ING officials also erased data from reports that would have revealed the involvement of Cuban and Iranian entities, and threatened to punish some employees who failed to remove those references from documents.
Jan Hommen, chief executive officer of the bank’s parent ING Group, based in Amsterdam, called the violations “serious and unacceptable,” but added the company has changed since then.
ING’s insurance and US banking operations were not involved in the case or the sanctions.
“ING has accepted responsibility for its criminal conduct” and agreed to pay the 619 million dollars as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the Justice Department said.
It said half the money will go to the US Attorney’s Office in New York, which has been investigating ING, and the bank will have to make regular reports on how it is complying with the US sanctions rules.
“For years, ING Bank blatantly violated US laws governing transactions involving Cuba and Iran, and then used shell companies and other deceptive measures to cover up its criminal conduct,” said Assistant US Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer.
Adam J. Szubin, director of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces US financial restrictions on foreign countries, said the fine was “a clear warning to anyone who would consider profiting by evading US sanctions.”
Cuba has faced US sanctions under the trade embargo since 1962. But after the September 11 terror attacks, tougher US measures against terrorism financing began hitting the socialist government’s financial transactions even harder.
Switzerland-based Credit Suisse Bank paid a 536-million-dollar fine to the US government in 2009 to settle allegations of illegal dealings with Cuba, Iran, and other sanctioned countries, while Switzerland’s UBS paid another one million dollars in 2004 for similar complaints.
In addition, a Jamaican branch of Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia reportedly refused to serve the Cuban Embassy in Kingston, and British-based HSBC bank reportedly shut down several Cuban accounts it held around the world.
Several other financial services companies that operated in Cuba as well as the United States — and therefore, subject to US regulations — have also closed their Cuban operations, complaining that the US regulations had become too burdensome and they risked costly violations.