France's Hollande to discuss BNP fine with Obama

PARIS - French President Francois Hollande plans to raise concerns about a possible $10 billion-plus US fine on BNP Paribas that he considers disproportionate with US counterpart Barack Obama.

The U.S president is due to arrive in France on Thursday for talks ahead of Friday's 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration.

"I don't know if he wants to talk about it, but I will talk to him about it (on Thursday evening)," Hollande told reporters during a trip to Warsaw on Wednesday. French officials have said the men will meet over dinner at a restaurant in central Paris.

US authorities are investigating whether BNP evaded US sanctions relating primarily to Sudan, Iran and Syria between 2002 and 2009. They allege the lender stripped out identifying information from wire transfers so they could pass through the US financial system without raising red flags.

Sources familiar with the matter have said the potential fine could top $10 billion.

Hollande wrote to Obama in April to express concern the possible fine for France's biggest bank would be "disproportionate" and flagged the need for a "reasonable" approach by the US justice system in close cooperation with the financial regulatory authorities, an official in Hollande's office said.

The two leaders had since spoken on the phone about BNP.

Hollande's intervention takes the drum roll of French concern over reports of the potentially huge fine to the highest level, following increasingly forthright objections from senior ministers of Hollande's government.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called the fine "inequitable" in a France 2 TV interview on Wednesday.

Sapin told the TV channel it was neither "possible nor acceptable for us to intervene in the justice proceedings", but criticised what he too described as a disproportionate fine.

"Whether it's a French bank or a European bank, we don't want American justice conducted in an inequitable way. The amount we've seen in the press, from our point of view, is inequitable," he said.

"Every time a fine of this nature is imposed, if it's disproportionate to the facts, for whatever bank it is, it has consequences for the bank and for its capacity to lend."

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose portfolio includes trade issues, warned that the fine could put in jeopardy transatlantic free-trade talks.

BNP has said publicly only that it is in discussions with US authorities about "certain US dollar payments involving countries, persons and entities that could have been subject to economic sanctions".

It has set aside $1.1 billion for the fine but told shareholders it could be far higher than that. Last month it also said it had improved control processes to ensure such mistakes did not occur again.