Lloyds TSB has been slapped with a $350 million penalty by the US Justice department over its "criminal conduct" in deliberately falsifying wire transfers destined for countries or individuals on US sanctions lists.
According to court documents, Lloyds deliberately removed material information - such as customer names, bank names and addresses - from payment messages so that the wire transfers would pass undetected through filters at US financial institutions.
The stripping of information allowed more than $350 million in transactions to be processed by US correspondent banks that might have otherwise been blocked or rejected due to sanctions regulations or for internal bank policy reasons.
In a statement, the Justice Department says: "The criminal conduct by Lloyds was designed to evade, and to assist its customers in evading, US economic sanctions imposed against Iran, Sudan and other countries."
Lloyds said it had set aside £180m last year against a possible settlement and it did "not anticipate any further enforcement actions".
New regulations for banks transmitting cover payments through the Fedwire Funds Service and Chips, the US wire transfer systems are set to be introduced some time in the fourth quarter of 2010. Swift, the bank-to-bank payment network is also introducing new messaging standard, MT 202 COV, that will go live in November 2009. The new format will include originator and beneficiary details and will make it possible for an originating bank to send a single aggregate cover payment containing payment instructions for multiple underlying individual transactions.
Lloyds is the first UK bank to fall foul of US investigations into the use of cover payments for obfuscating payments information. Punitive actions against other banks are expected to follow in the near future.