NEW YORK/LONDON, Wed Aug 8, 2012 – The Treasury Department and Federal Reserve were blindsided and angered by New York’s banking regulator’s decision to launch an explosive attack on Standard Chartered Plc over $250 billion in alleged money laundering transactions tied to Iran, sources familiar with the situation said.
By going it alone through the order he issued on Monday, Benjamin Lawsky, head of the recently created New York State Department of Financial Services, also complicates talks between the Treasury and London-based Standard Chartered to settle claims over the transactions, several of the sources said.
Lawsky’s stunning move, which included releasing embarrassing communications and details of the bank’s alleged defiance of U.S. sanctions against Iran, is rewriting the playbook on how foreign banks settle cases involving the processing of shadowy funds tied to sanctioned countries. In the past, such cases have usually been settled through negotiation – with public shaming kept to a minimum.
In his order, Lawsky said Standard Chartered’s dealings exposed the U.S. banking system to terrorists, drug traffickers and corrupt states.
But the upset expressed by some federal officials, who were given virtually no notice of the New York move, may provide ammunition for Standard Chartered to portray the allegations as coming from a relatively new and over-zealous regulator.
But, given the content of the order – which described Standard Chartered as a “rogue institution” that “schemed” with the Iranian government and hid from law enforcement officials some 60,000 secret transactions over nearly 10 years – the bank may need to come up with a strong defense.
Lawsky did not respond to several requests for comment on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Federal Reserve said it had been working closely with various prosecutorial offices on matters involving Iran and other sanctioned entities, but could not comment on ongoing investigations.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the government takes alleged violations of sanctions “extremely seriously” and the Treasury remains in close contact with federal and state authorities on the matter. The Treasury declined to add to that comment.