Sanctions with Chinese characteristics
18 Nov 2016

The fines paid to America’s financial regulators by errant bankers vary enormously these days: from sky-high to stratospheric. Deutsche Bank is fighting a demand for $14bn. BNP Paribas paid $9bn last year for facilitating the evasion of American sanctions. So eyebrows were raised at the final settlement disclosed this month between the state-controlled Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) and New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS). The fine imposed on the bank was a mere $215m.

The comparative leniency towards ABC is probably a consequence of a failure to prove that many illegal transactions took place. But that by itself produced unresolved suspicions; compliance systems made transfers untraceable. In 2014 a new compliance officer at the two-year-old New York branch reported finding an “alarming” pattern of transactions; 20-30% were “virtually impervious to screening” for sanction violations.

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