MANHATTAN (CN) — Two years after BNP Paribas paid nearly $9 billion for dealing with "rogue nations," Sudanese refugees filed a federal class action calling the bank complicit in their government's persecution.
The Paris-based bank has spent the better part of a decade fending off allegations that it aided human rights abuses and their perpetrators.
In the wake of Iraq's oil-for-food scandal, BNP was one of 70 corporations accused of helping Saddam Hussein divert billions of dollars in cash, goods and services from their humanitarian purposes.
The same year BNP beat this federal court lawsuit, the bank pleaded guilty to the Department of Justice's charges that it committed "large-scale, systematic violations" of U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.
Then-Attorney General Eric Holder called the agreement unprecedented at the time.
On Monday, more than a dozen victims of the Sudanese government cited that prosecution in a class action lawsuit skewering the bank for "extraordinary corporate greed and utter disregard for the lives of thousands of innocent individuals."
Lead plaintiff Entesar Osman Kashef says that BNP helped finance the Janjaweed militia that killed her entire family, burned her house, and stole all her property. Once she fled to Sudan's capital of Khartoum, Kashef says, the militia arrested her without charge, beat her, and sexually assaulted her for three months. She says that she entered the United States as a refugee in August.
Kashef and 15 plaintiffs claim to represent hundreds persecuted by Sudanese human-rights violators who used BNP's services.
"All the while, BNPP was fully aware that Sudan intended to use the newly provided U.S. dollars to finance widespread ethnic cleansing of its black civilian population, including plaintiffs — now U.S. citizens and permanent residents," the 51-page complaint states.
In the early 2000s, BNP became Sudan's sole correspondent bank in Europe, and engaged in thousands of illicit transactions through its New York branch and affiliates, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint states that these transactions financed Sudan's crude oil exports, which accounted for roughly 85 percent of the country's economy
"Specifically, aided and abetted by BNPP, Sudan was able purchase bombs, tanks, helicopters, automatic rifles, ammunition, and other military hardware with profits from the export of oil — purchases the GOS could not have made without the funds it received as a result of BNPP's unlawful conduct — and then arm its troops and proxy militia with those weapons so that they could oust black civilians, such as plaintiffs, from their homelands," the complaint states. "Strengthened with oil money in U.S. dollars, Sudanese troops and their surrogates caused the violent death and injury of thousands of Darfuris and citizens of central and south Sudan."
The refugees accuse BNP of 13 counts of conspiracy, aiding and abetting, prima facie tort, battery, assault, false arrest, conversion, emotional distress, commercial bad faith and unjust enrichment.
They are represented by Kathryn Lee Crawford of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP.
BNP's press office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.