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Why Pick on BNP Paribas?

CAMBRIDGE – To Europeans with whom I speak, the $8.9 billion fine imposed on the French financial-services company BNP Paribas for violating American sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Sudan seems excessive. Yes, BNP did something seriously wrong. But $8.9 billion? Isn’t that extremely disproportionate for an otherwise highly responsible bank? French President François Hollande asked US President Barack Obama to intervene to have the fine reduced, as did the European Union’s commissioner for the internal market and services, Michel Barnier.

The fine is indeed much higher than those levied before. Hefty fines for currency-trading violations are not new (HSBC, for example, was hit with a $1.9 billion fine in 2012); but a fine close to $10 billion is.