(Adds details throughout, trader’s guilty plea, other banks, background, byline)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A unit of BNP Paribas SA agreed to plead guilty and pay a $90 million criminal fine for rigging foreign currency prices, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Friday.
BNP Paribas USA admitted to having conspired to suppress competition by fixing prices for Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African currencies from September 2011 to July 2013, violating U.S. antitrust law.
The Justice Department said the conspiracy involved price manipulation on an electronic trading platform through the creation of bogus trades, coordinated trading, and agreements on what prices to quote to specific customers, among other means.
“BNP Paribas USA deeply regrets the past misconduct that led to this settlement, which was a clear breach of the high standards on which it operates,” the French bank said in a statement.
The settlement also resolves probes by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the New York State Department of Financial Services, BNP Paribas said.
BNP Paribas is the sixth major bank to admit criminal wrongdoing in the Justice Department’s currency probe.
Barclays Plc, Citigroup Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and UBS Group AG have also entered guilty pleas, the Justice Department said. The six banks have collectively been fined more than $2.8 billion.
The Justice Department said BNP Paribas will not be put on probation, given its “substantial” efforts to improve oversight and avoid a recurrence.
It also said the bank agreed to cooperate with the probe by the department’s antitrust division.
“The division’s investigation aims to root out and eradicate the manipulation that has plagued this industry,” Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said in a statement.
BNP Paribas’ plea followed the Jan. 4, 2017 guilty plea of a former trader, Jason Katz, for conspiring to fix currency prices.
Katz, who also worked at Barclays, was the first person to admit guilt in the probe, and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 5, court records show.
Four other traders have also been criminally charged, and one of them has pleaded guilty, the Justice Department said.
Another French bank, Societe Generale, in November said it was in talks with U.S. authorities to resolve a probe into the alleged manipulation of benchmark interest rates such as the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Maya Nikolaeva in Paris; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)