In September, we brought you information about a U.S. Justice Department suit in which a major bank (BNPP) was sentenced to pay $8.9736 billion for violations of U.S. sanctions, mostly with regard to Sudan. Of this $8.9736 billion penalty, the Department of Justice published notice that $3.8336 billion was available for compensation to people who were “directly and proximately harmed by BNPP’s sanctions violations." The vast majority of these people are millions of Sudanese citizens impacted by their government's well-documented war crimes, which were made possible largely in part by the illegal actions of BNPP.
We also highlighted our support for a proposal requesting that some of the $3.8336 available be used to support humanitarian and compensation programs in Sudan since the most impacted groups of people from BNPP's illegal actions live there.
BNPP’s settlement agreement with the Department of Justice noted BNPP’s illegal behavior in violation of U.S.-imposed sanctions on Sudan in the period 2002 through December 2008. In the one-year period, alone—July 2006 through June 2007—BNPP processed $6.4 billion in illegal transactions involving Sudan. In addition to illegal transactions, BNPP provided illegal letters of credit for the Government of Sudan and held most of the Government of Sudan’s foreign currency assets. As a result, BNPP provided substantial financial support for Government of Sudan’s war against its people.
BNPP also helped Sudan finance its oil industry, which provided Sudan’s primary export and source of government revenue. In addition, the letters of credit and foreign exchange substantially and inevitably helped as the Government of Sudan ramped up its military expenditures during this period. Sudan’s large military purchases during this period included such deadly equipment as MiG-29’s and Mi-24 helicopter gunships, which the Government of Sudan used in its various wars against its own people in the period 2002 through 2008, as well as subsequently. These weapons have historically had long use in Sudan’s military, and the Government of Sudan continues to employ these weapons in its attacks against its people.
Compensation To Sudanese Victims Being Denied
Within the massive spending deal that U.S. Congressional leaders announced Wednesday are provisions that take $3.8 billion of the BNPP fine from the Justice Department and put it toward paying victims of the 9/11 attacks and several other assaults, such as the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Not included in the list though are the majority of the victims of BNPP's actions: the Sudanese people, many of whom are still suffering due to the government of Sudan and BNPP.
To be clear, there is no doubt that BNPP's illegal activity has had global repercussions and that these funds should be used to compensate people impacted by it regardless of where they are. This makes it all the more disappointing that virtually none of these funds appear to be allocated to Sudanese victims, who as a group make up the vast majority of people impacted by BNPP and the government of Sudan.
Even Justice Department officials have expressed concerns that the new legislation could exclude certain victims. Questions have also been raised about a provision in the legislation that would allow the victims’ lawyers to collect up to a stunning 25% of the funds.
It is morally reprehensible for the U.S. government to reach such a large settlement and then ensure that only a tiny minority of the victims are compensated. Put more simply, the fact that lawyers will have the opportunity to get such large sums of these funds and Sudanese victims won't is downright disgusting, especially considering that many of these victims continue to face war crimes and horrific living conditions due to the actions of BNPP and the government of Sudan.
Can anything be done? That is unclear at the moment. Hopefully in the coming days as more organizations and legal experts take notice of this disappointing development, a new set of options will present itself.