France probes BNP Paribas over accusations of enabling Sudan war crimes
French prosecutors have opened an inquiry into banking giant BNP Paribas over claims of complicity in crimes against humanity, genocide and torture in Sudan, sources said Thursday.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which had filed a complaint against the French bank, announced on Twitter that an investigation had been opened, information confirmed to French news agency AFP by a judicial source.
A year ago almost to the day, nine Sudanese victims backed by rights groups including the FIDH filed a criminal complaint against BNP Paribas for allegedly facilitating crimes committed in Sudan between 2002 and 2008, particularly in the war-torn western region of Darfur.
It was considered the regime's "de facto central bank" at the time despite international sanctions, the FIDH said.
The judicial source said the investigation was opened on 26 August into "complicity in crimes against humanity, genocide and acts of torture and barbarism."
The FIDH said last year that the complaint "marks the first attempt to hold the French bank criminally responsible for alleged complicity in international crimes committed in Sudan, and Darfur in particular."
Sudanese authorities and leaders from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups, agreed to a historic peace agreement on 31 August in Juba aimed at ending nearly two decades of conflict.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since 2003.
In 2014, BNP Paribas pleaded guilty in the United States to conspiring to violate American sanctions against the governments of Sudan, Iran and Cuba, and agreed to a fine of $8.9 billion.
It was found guilty of going "to elaborate lengths to conceal prohibited transactions, cover its tracks, and deceive US authorities," according to the US Department of Justice.
Illegal payments "were made on behalf of sanctioned entities in Sudan, which was subject to US embargo based on the Sudanese government's role in facilitating terrorism and committing human rights abuses," it said.
The FIDH said Sudanese victims did not receive any compensation from that settlement.
"Behind the gravest crimes and human rights violations there is always money," the federation's honorary president Patrick Baudouin said last year.
"By granting the Sudanese regime access to international money markets, BNP allowed the government to function, pay its staff, military and security forces, make purchases abroad, all while Sudan was a pariah on the international scene for planning and committing crimes in Darfur," he added.
A criminal complaint has also been lodged against BNP for alleged complicity in the 1994 genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi minority.