Indian hands behind pincer move on BNP Paribas

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 03, 2014 00:12 IST

The case against French banking giant BNP Paribas, which it settled for a record $8.9 billion this week, started with a mourning father’s resolve to get justice for his daughter.

And in the dogged investigation that brought the case to its conclusion, were two prosecutors of Indian descent.

Stephen Flatow had sued Iran, holding it responsible for a bombing in Gaza that killed his daughter in 1995. A federal court ordered him compensation, but Iran never paid.

Flatow, a New Jersey lawyer, then filed a lawsuit alleging a Manhattan charity, Alavi Foundation, was a front for the Iranian government.

Manhattan district public prosecutors came upon this lawsuit in 2006. A young analyst, Eitan Arusy became interested in Flatow’s lawsuit, as he had, as a soldier, been to the site of the explosion that killed Flatow’s daughter.

The first breakthrough came when an informant revealed Alavi Foundation was indeed a front for Iran’s government. Another said it had got funding from Iranian state-owned Bank Melli.

But there was no trace of Iran on wire transfers: they were all from Credit Suisse and Lloyds. The case was then escalated to the office of Manhattan US attorney, the Indian-born Preet Bharara.

At around the same time, Jaikumar Ramaswamy, chief of justice department’s asset forfeiture and money laundering section, began looking at Credit Suisse on a tip.

These investigations were merged into one, and a crackdown on banks suspected of flouting US sanctions resulted. A string of settlements followed: Credit Suisse and Lloyds in 2009, Barclays in 2010, ING, Standard Chartered and HSBC in 2012, and now BNP Paribas.

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