August 13, 2012 / 3:22 AM / 6 years ago

Standard Chartered, facing hearing, talks dollars on Iran probe

(Reuters) - Standard Chartered Plc and New York state regulators have discussed a settlement amount to resolve an inquiry into whether the British bank’s records improperly hid transactions tied to Iran even as the bank prepares for a hearing to defend its New York license, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Employees of Standard Chartered leave a branch of the bank in central Seoul August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

The dual tracks highlight the uncertainty of the situation facing Standard Chartered as it enters a second week at odds with New York’s Department of Financial Services, which alleged August 6 the bank hid transactions tied to Iran. The state agency, headed by Benjamin Lawsky, ordered the bank to explain why it shouldn’t lose its license at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Standard Chartered vehemently disagrees with the agency’s allegation the bank improperly processed $250 billion tied to Iran, which Lawsky cited in his order issued August 6. The heart of his order, however, alleges the bank violated state laws when it concealed records of transactions from bank examiners.

The talks could still collapse, and the hearing also could be postponed to allow more time for negotiations, according to the sources familiar with the matter.

The bank, meanwhile, already was cooperating in a separate probe dating to 2010 that included the U.S. Justice Department and Manhattan district attorney. That investigation is aimed at determining whether Standard Chartered violated U.S. sanctions laws and a settlement discussion has been occurring separately from the state discussions.

A settlement with New York would end a period of turmoil for the bank and law enforcement officials and likely would result in a multimillion-dollar fine for Standard Chartered. A settlement with federal officials also could result in a multimillion-dollar fine.

Officials for the Justice and Treasury departments and the Manhattan district attorney either weren’t available for comment or declined to comment.

Lawsky’s order cited communications between Standard Chartered officials about the reputational and legal threats to the bank if it kept doing business with Iranian clients.

Spokespersons for Lawsky’s department and Standard Chartered declined to comment.

Faced with similar accusations, some banks prefer to quietly settle. Barclays Plc, Credit Suisse Group, Lloyds Banking Group, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and ING Bank NV had agreed in prior years to settlements totaling nearly $2 billion into how those banks allegedly processed money or assets tied to sanctioned countries.

Standard Chartered, by comparison, said last week that Lawsky’s “interpretation” that the bank had improperly handled Iranian transactions was “incorrect as a matter of law.”

Lawsky’s office alleged the bank had hidden from regulators some $250 billion in improper transactions tied to Iran. The bank said that total amount that didn’t adhere to U.S. sanction laws was less than $14 million.

More recently, the bank has gone quiet. Chief executive Peter Sands was scheduled to appear on CNBC on Thursday but that appearance was postponed. The network said at the time the bank had emailed to say Sands couldn’t appear because of “logistical reasons.”

Reporting by Carrick Mollenkamp; Editing by Alwyn Scott and Ryan Woo

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