US announces plan to compensate victims of Sudan, Iran and Cuba using money from BNP Paribas

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NEW YORK — The U.S. government announced a system Friday to compensate people harmed by Sudan, Iran and Cuba using some of the $8.9 billion forfeited by France's largest bank for violating U.S. economic sanctions by processing transactions for clients in blacklisted countries.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein revealed the plan after U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield formally sentenced BNP Paribas consistent with the bank's guilty plea last year. She said the bank must turn over the forfeiture and pay a $140 million fine. It also pleaded guilty to state charges.

Federal authorities say the forfeiture set a record for a sanctions case brought by the Justice Department and for a penalty imposed in a criminal case involving a bank.

The bank admitted conspiring to violate the International Emergency Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act. It said it processed billions of dollars in illegal transactions on behalf of clients in Sudan, Cuba and Iran as it violated U.S. trade sanctions imposed to block the participation of some countries in the global financial system.

A lawyer for the bank said Friday that it was committed to ensuring its reforms meet proper standards.

In anticipation of Goldstein's announcement, about 15 victims of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa came to court. They cited court rulings concluding al-Qaida relied on support from Sudan to carry out terror attacks, including the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

They left unhappy after Goldstein and another government lawyer announced that anyone harmed during the 2004 to 2012 stretch in which the bank admitted wrongdoing could file a claim at http://usvbnpp.com and that others harmed outside those years could also try to make an argument for compensation.

"Total disappointment," said Marina Kirima, a Seattle resident who worked at the embassy in Kenya when it was bombed. "It's like starting all over again."

She added: "I was thinking that they would start the process to give the victims something, however small."

Her younger brother, injured in the blast, never walked again and died from lingering injuries 14 years later, she said outside court. In all, 224 people died in the blasts, a dozen Americans among them.

James Ndeda, a systems specialist at the U.S. embassy when he suffered a skull fracture in the Nairobi bombing, motioned toward other unhappy victims.

"As you look at these faces, they're all disappointed," he said. "This process has taken too long."

Ndeda, who lives in Seattle, said he is in touch with about 500 victims of the bombings in Africa.

"I don't know what to tell them," he said.

Attorney Bill Wheeler, among a team of lawyers who won an $8.7 billion award in 2013 for about 600 clients, including the embassy bombing victims, said government attorneys had indicated money would be forthcoming.

"Then they said, 'We'll come up with this silly website thing,'" he said with disgust. "This website sounds like something a bunch of high schoolers would come up with."

Friday's hearing did not displease everyone. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio noted in a release that $448 million of the BNP forfeiture will go to the Manhattan district attorney's office and $447 million to the city, some of which will be used to equip all police officers with smartphones.

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