BNP fined $8.9 bn for breaking US sanctions on Iran, Sudan Washington (AFP) - BNP Paribas pleaded guilty Monday to US criminal charges of violating sanctions on Iran, Sudan and other countries and was fined a record $8.9 billion to settle the case. The US Justice Department said the French bank deliberately hid thousands of transactions with the two countries as well as Myanmar and Cuba during 2004-2012 in what officials called a "complex and pervasive scheme" and a "serious breach " of US law. Officials described the fine as the largest penalty ever obtained by the Justice Department in a criminal economic sanctions case, and the largest in any criminal case involving a bank. "BNP went to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks, and deceive United States authorities," Attorney General Eric Holder said. The violations aided countries involved in terrorism and human rights violations, Holder said, "in many cases to the detriment of United States national security." The bank agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to violate sanctions, making it the first bank found guilty in a sanctions case. As part of the settlement, BNP agreed to dismiss or let go 13 employees, including the chief operating officer, who resigned earlier this month. "This landmark resolution demonstrates the justice department's firm commitment to enforcing embargos and other measures designed to protect America's security and our vital national interests," said Holder. "This outcome should send a strong message to any institution, any institution anywhere in the world, that does business with the United States, that illegal conduct will simply not be tolerated." Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell linked the severity of the penalty to both the bank's deliberate attempts to hide the activity and its non-cooperation with the investigation. "Remarkably, BNP continued to engage in this criminal conduct even after being told by its own lawyers that what it was doing was illegal," Caldwell said. "Not only did BNP commit severe criminal acts, but then, BNP hindered our ability to prosecute the individuals that engaged in that wrongdoing. It must now accept the criminal consequences of its actions." Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said the punishment was also a message to shareholders to demand better behavior from corporate management. "The $9 billion is your money," he said to BNP investors. Even if a bank's workers are trained to comply with laws, he said, it is "essential" to have leaders who "send messages of accountability." The fine was expected to have a large impact on the profits on BNP, France's largest bank by capitalization. But France's banking regulator ACPR said BNP had the capital foundations to weather the hit. The agency said in a statement that it had previously examined BNP's liquidity and solvency and found it to be "quite solid."