BNP Paribas to face revived Sudan genocide lawsuit

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A US appeals court revived a lawsuit against BNP Paribas SA by alleged victims of a genocidal regime in Sudan, who sought to hold the French bank liable for aiding in government atrocities.

The 3-0 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan came almost five years after BNP Paribas pleaded guilty and agreed to pay an $8.97 billion (7.08 billion pounds) penalty to settle US charges it transferred billions for Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban entities subject to economic sanctions.

Circuit Judge Barrington Parker said claims against BNP Paribas based on genocide in Sudan were subject to US judicial review and a lower court judge erred in concluding differently.

Twenty-one refugees now resident in the United States filed the proposed class action against BNP Paribas in 2016 over its role as the Sudan regime’s main bank from 1997 to 2007.

They said BNP Paribas’ processing of illegal transactions through its New York offices furthered the regime’s campaign of murder, mass rape, torture and deliberate HIV infection against its own people.

A bank spokeswoman declined to comment.

Dismissing the lawsuit in March 2018, US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan said the act of state doctrine barred her from examining the validity of Sudan’s official actions and whether BNP Paribas should be liable for aiding them.

Parker said Sudan’s own laws and the “universal international consensus” against genocide prevented US courts from declaring genocide an “official act” of Sudan.

“Considering the lack of evidence introduced by BNPP that genocide is the official policy of Sudan and countervailing evidence that genocide blatantly violates Sudan’s own laws, we conclude there is simply no ‘official act’ a court would be required to ‘declare invalid’ to adjudicate plaintiffs’ claims,” he wrote.

The appeals court added Nathan erred in dismissing some claims as untimely and returned the case to her.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania law professor representing the plaintiffs, said they will pursue their claims in the district court.

“US courts should never give deference to human rights atrocities such as mass rape and ethnic cleansing,” he said.

BNP Paribas’ June 2014 guilty plea was the first by a global bank to large-scale, systematic violations of US economic sanctions, the Department of Justice said at the time.