UniCredit Says U.S. Is Investigating Unit Over Sanctions

UniCredit SpA, Italy’s biggest bank, said its HypoVereinsbank unit is being investigated by U.S. authorities over possible violation of economic sanctions.

HypoVereinsbank, or HVB, “has been cooperating with investigations by the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control involving U.S.- sanctioned persons and companies,” Milan-based UniCredit said in an e-mailed statement today.

UniCredit disclosed the probes in its 2011 financial statements and its latest prospectus, according to the bank, which said it was responding to a report in the Financial Times. The FT said today that U.S. authorities were probing UniCredit for possibly violating sanctions that outlaw business with Iran, which the U.S. accuses of seeking to develop nuclear arm, a charge Iran denies.

HVB, which was acquired by the Italian bank in 2005 and now operates as UniCredit Bank AG, is carrying out a broader review of its compliance with U.S. sanctions, according to the statement. “The investigation and review are ongoing, and it would be inappropriate to comment further,” UniCredit said.

Shares in UniCredit, which closed at 3.1 euros each on Aug. 24, are down 27 percent for the year to date.

Banks including Standard Chartered Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc have been caught up in U.S. probes over alleged sanction violations. HSBC, Europe’s largest lender by market value, is under investigation by U.S. authorities for laundering funds of sanctioned nations including Iran and Sudan.

Standard Chartered agreed on Aug. 14 to pay $340 million to settle a New York money-laundering probe, and still faces federal investigations over allegations it helped Iran funnel money through the U.S.

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