BNP Paribas offers judgment for $80 to resolve agriculture false claims case; US accepts

by Ben Vernia | July 27th, 2014

On July 24, a District Judge in the Southern District of Texas entered judgment against the French banking giant BNP Paribas for $80 million in a False Claims Act case alleging that the company received payment guarantees for US commodity exports to which it was not entitled. According to a press release issued by DOJ:

The Department of Justice announced today that an $80 million False Claims Act judgment was entered against BNP Paribas for submitting false claims for payment guarantees issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). BNP Paribas is a global financial institution headquartered in Paris.

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The United States filed a lawsuit against BNP Paribas in connection with its receipt of payment guarantees under USDA’s Supplier Credit Guarantee (SCG) Program. The program provided payment guarantees to U.S.-based exporters for their sales of grain and other agricultural commodities to importers in foreign countries. The program encouraged American exporters to sell American agricultural commodities to foreign importers and covered part of the losses if the foreign importers failed to pay. The SCG Program regulations provided that U.S. exporters were ineligible to participate in the SCG Program if the exporter and foreign importer were under common ownership or control.

The judgment entered by the court resolves the government’s allegations that, from 1998 to 2005, BNP Paribas participated in a sustained scheme to defraud the SCG Program. In furtherance of the scheme, American exporters and Mexican importers who were under common control improperly obtained SCG Program export credit guarantees for transactions between the affiliated exporters and importers. In some cases, the underlying transactions were shams and did not involve any real shipment of grain. BNP Paribas accepted assignment of the credit guarantees from the American exporters, even though it knew that the affiliated exporters and importers were ineligible for SCG Program financing, and a BNP Paribas vice-president, Jerry Cruz, received bribes from the exporters. Beginning in April 2005, when the Mexican importers began defaulting on their payment obligations, BNP Paribas submitted claims to the USDA for the resulting losses.

On Jan. 20, 2012, Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The judgment resulted from an offer of judgment BNP made to DOJ (under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68), which DOJ accepted.

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