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Standard Chartered says it made false comments on sanction breaches

A man walking past a foot bridge leading to the Standard Chartered main branch is reflected on a window glass in Hong Kong March 5, 2013. RE
A man walking past a foot bridge leading to the Standard Chartered main branch is reflected on a window glass in Hong Kong March 5, 2013. RE

By Steve Slater

LONDON (Reuters) - Standard Chartered Chairman John Peace apologized on Thursday for inaccurate comments he made earlier this month about his bank breaching U.S. sanctions over Iran.

The highly unusual retraction indicated U.S. regulators had put pressure on the bank to clarify the comments following a high-profile settlement last year which cost Standard Chartered $667 million.

The London-based bank agreed to deferred prosecution agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice and District Attorney of New York as part of the settlement.

Peace said on March 5 at a press conference with reporters that Standard Chartered "had no willful act to avoid sanctions".

But in a statement on Thursday, he said those comments were "both legally and factually incorrect" and he retracted them.

He said they directly contradicted the bank's acceptance of responsibility.

"To be clear, Standard Chartered Bank unequivocally acknowledges and accepts responsibility ... for past knowing and willful criminal conduct in violating U.S. economic sanctions laws and regulations," Peace said in the statement.

He said he "very much" regretted his earlier comments, which "were at best inaccurate".

The bank said the statement followed discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice and the District Attorney of New York. It declined further comment.

The settlements by Standard Chartered related to transactions for customers in sanctioned countries Iran, Sudan, Libya and Burma between 2001 and 2007.

U.S. authorities accused the bank of leaving out information from U.S. dollar wire payments, preventing regulators from identifying suspicious activity.

UK politicians and regulators were angered by the aggressive action of New York banking regulator Benjamin Lawsky against the bank. Lawsky's actions also angered other U.S. regulators who had spent more than two years investigating the bank and wanted a more coordinated settlement before he made public his accusations in August.

(Editing by Matt Scuffham and Tom Pfeiffer)

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