French banking major BNP Paribas has pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to forfeit US$8.83 billion as part of an investigation into allegations the French bank violated US sanctions laws.

A lawyer for BNP briefly appeared in New York state court and pleaded guilty to one count of falsifying business records and one count of conspiracy.

BNP Paribas admitted that over a span from 2004 to 2012 it helped move more than US$8.8 billion through the US in direct violation of sanctions and embargoes.

"These activities significantly undermined long-standing US economic sanctions, in many cases to the detriment of America’s national security interests," Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said.

"They continued for years, despite repeated indications and warnings that the bank’s conduct violated US embargoes," Holder added.

The agreement includes a year-long suspension of the bank’s ability to convert foreign currency into US dollars through its New York office. The bank will clear US dollars through a third party till the ban is in place.

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By GlobalData

Also, nearly 30 employees will leave BNP Paribas as a result of the investigation, including several who have gone already.

Commenting on the settlement, BNP Paribas CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafe, said: "We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement. The failures that have come to light in the course of this investigation run contrary to the principles on which BNP Paribas has always sought to operate.

"We have announced today a comprehensive plan to strengthen our internal controls and processes, in ongoing close coordination with the US authorities and our home regulator to ensure that we do not fall below the high standards of responsible conduct we expect from everyone associated with BNP Paribas."

BNP Paribas is only the second bank to plead guilty in recent years. Last month, Credit Suisse agreed to plead guilty and pay US$2.6 billion to US authorities to settle charges that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes.