French bank BNP Paribas says it wasn’t an accomplice to Sudanese genocide
06 Nov 2020

BNP Paribas urged a Manhattan federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by alleged victims of a genocidal regime in Sudan on Thursday, saying that while its banking work for the government violated U.S. sanctions, it did not make the bank liable for its atrocities.

In a telephonic hearing before U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, Carmine Boccuzzi of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton argued that the French bank cannot be considered an accomplice because its actions were too far removed from the alleged harm.

Twenty-one Sudanese refugees now living in the United States filed the proposed class action in 2016 saying BNP Paribas, the regime’s main bank from 1997 to 2007, enabled the torture, rape and murder of Sudanese citizens.

The lawsuit alleges the banking relationship allowed the regime of former president Omar al-Bashir to evade sanctions and access the U.S. financial system to enable it sell the country’s oil and buy weapons used against the Sudanese people.

“There’s no allegation here that BNPP was consciously cooperating with Sudan with respect to the attacks,” Boccuzzi said.

Nathan had ruled in March that Swiss law governs the case because BNP Paribas’ Geneva branch handled correspondent banking for Sudanese banks.

During the hearing, she noted that the parties’ Swiss law experts seemed to have competing interpretations of whether Swiss law required “deliberate” or “conscious” participation.

Brent Landau of Hausfeld argued on behalf of the refugees that BNP Paribas “went far beyond ordinary banking services” by handling transactions collectively worth $190 billion and that the bank knew or should have known that it was contributing to human rights violations.

Nathan reserved decision on the motion on Thursday.

BNP Paribas pleaded guilty in 2014 and agreed to pay an $8.97 billion penalty to settle U.S. charges it transferred billions of dollars for Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban entities subject to economic sanctions.

Nathan had dismissed the refugees’ lawsuit in March 2018, saying the act of state doctrine barred her from examining the validity of Sudan’s official actions, and therefore whether BNP Paribas should be liable for aiding them.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in May 2019, ruling that Sudan’s own laws and the “universal international consensus” against genocide prevented U.S. courts from declaring genocide an “official act.”

Read more at Westlaw Today

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