By Brett Wolf, Compliance Complete ST. LOUIS, June 18 – The pivotal role BNP Paribas played in helping Sudan sell oil in violation of U.S. sanctions is the major reason U.S. authorities are pushing for harsh penalties against the French banking giant, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter said.”BNP basically was the Sudanese economy. They were just huge in helping the government of Sudan evade U.S. sanctions,” one of the sources said.BNP’s role involved removing references to Sudanese parties from wire-transfer messages, so U.S. dollar oil payments could clear through New York and move into accounts controlled by Khartoum, the sources said. The sources declined to name the buyers of the Sudanese oil or to say what Khartoum did with the revenue.

The dollar is the primary currency for the global oil trade.

The prohibited transactions ran into the “many billions of dollars,” and their “sheer volume” weakened the U.S. sanctions from 2002 and “well beyond 2009,” the other source said. He added that the sums involved and the damage to sanctions “factored into the mix” as authorities calculated the approximate size of the penalty that would be demanded from the bank.

When asked whether U.S. authorities plan to pursue criminal charges against any current or former BNP executives, one of the sources said such decisions will not be made until after the case against the bank has been resolved. “That’s something that is being looked at closely,” the source said.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

U.S. prosecutors have been pushing the bank to plead guilty to unspecified criminal charges as part of a resolution that is expected to include a multi-billion dollar penalty, sources have said. Neither source cited above was willing to say precisely how much U.S. authorities have sought during the continuing negotiations. Reuters has reported a figure of $10 billion.