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New whistleblower allegations surface on Standard Chartered's Iran transactions

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  • New whistleblower allegations claim Standard Chartered conducted billions of dollars in transactions for sanctioned Iranian entities and terrorist groups.
  • The bank's misconduct may have been far more extensive than previously acknowledged, raising serious questions about regulatory oversight and compliance.
  • Standard Chartered has denied the allegations, but the new disclosures have been described as "shocking" by experts.

Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) is once again under the spotlight as new whistleblower claims have surfaced, alleging that the bank conducted billions of dollars in transactions for sanctioned Iranian entities and terrorist groups. These revelations, if proven true, could significantly impact the bank's reputation and raise serious questions about regulatory oversight and compliance.

Julian Knight, a former executive at Standard Chartered, has accused the U.S. government of ignoring or concealing crucial evidence that the bank engaged in far more extensive dealings with sanctioned Iranian entities than previously admitted. Knight, who led a transaction services unit at the bank from 2009 to 2011, claims that U.S. officials falsely denied his role in exposing these transactions when the Justice Department declined to intervene in his whistleblower claim against the bank.

In a recent court filing, Knight described the government's actions as a "colossal fraud," alleging that they either lied about conducting a thorough investigation or were fully aware of the transactions and chose to conceal them. He provided evidence of at least 500,000 separate transactions, including U.S. dollar-denominated foreign exchange transactions involving Iran-related clients, which were hidden in 53 Microsoft Excel files.

David Scantling, a forensic analyst who examined the data, supported Knight's claims, stating that the hidden transactional records revealed deeply troubling connections to sanctioned entities and terrorist organizations. Scantling noted that the data showed the bank's Iran Group continued to service existing Iranian clients and onboarded new ones, despite claiming to have ceased all Iranian operations in 2007.

These new allegations are particularly concerning given Standard Chartered's history of regulatory issues. In 2012, the bank agreed to forfeit $227 million to the U.S. Justice Department for violating federal and state laws by illegally moving millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on behalf of entities in Iran and other sanctioned countries. The settlements, known as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs), allowed the bank to avoid criminal charges in exchange for its commitment to stop processing transactions for sanctioned entities and implement internal reforms.

However, the recent whistleblower claims suggest that the bank's misconduct was far more extensive than previously acknowledged. According to court documents, the bank facilitated transactions for a Pakistani fertilizer company known for selling explosive materials used by the Taliban and a Gambian front company owned by a key Hezbollah financier. These transactions were not mentioned in the 2012 and 2019 DPAs, raising questions about the thoroughness of the investigations and the bank's compliance with regulatory requirements.

Standard Chartered has denied the whistleblower allegations, stating that the claims have been thoroughly discredited by U.S. authorities. A spokesperson for the bank described the allegations as "another attempt to use fabricated claims against the bank, following previous unsuccessful attempts".

Despite these denials, the new disclosures have been described as "shocking" and "exponentially worse" by Daniel Alter, former general counsel at the New York Department of Financial Services, which first pursued Standard Chartered for breaching sanctions. Alter expressed surprise that such connections to terrorist organizations were not disclosed earlier.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations have declined to comment on the case, leaving many questions unanswered. As the legal proceedings continue, the full extent of Standard Chartered's alleged misconduct and the potential consequences for the bank remain to be seen.

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