Class action against the chief financier of the Darfur Genocide

Kashef v. BNP Paribas

The genocide in Darfur shocked the world’s conscience as one of the first mass atrocities of the 21st Century. The United States tried to prevent that genocide by imposing an economic embargo on the brutal regime of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. Oil revenue was the lifeblood of Sudan’s police state, and in order to realize oil profits the Bashir regime needed to sell oil in U.S. dollars cleared through the U.S. financial system. If the embargo had succeeded, it would have prevented the Sudanese regime from financing its war machine with petrodollars.


the embargo did not succeed: it was systematically undermined by the French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP), which served as the de facto central bank of Sudan from 1997 to 2007. In 2014, BNPP pleaded guilty to one of the largest bank crimes in history: it admitted to conspiring with Sudanese government banks and other sanctioned entities to circumvent the U.S. embargo and launder billions of dollars of sanctioned transactions, falsifying documents to deceive regulators. BNPP admitted that it knew the sanctions were designed to prevent human rights abuses. It knew that the Sudanese regime was committing atrocities on a massive scale. It even called this macabre arrangement a “dirty little secret.”

The U.S. government imposed a record $8.9 billion fine on the bank. Its victims, however, never received a dollar from the bank in compensation.

In May 2016, Sudanese refugees living in the United States filed suit against BNPP, alleging that the bank was negligent in laundering billions for Sudan, knowing that the regime was committing mass atrocities fueled by the oil trade. The bank’s defense argued that under the “act of state” doctrine, the case could not be heard because it involved the allegedly wrongful conduct of a foreign state. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed that decision, holding that negligence claims arising from genocide can be heard in a U.S. court, and that genocide, which is universally prohibited, cannot be recognized as an official act of state, shielded from the review of an American court.

With the case remanded to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Hausfeld was asked to join the victims’ legal team in 2020. Shortly thereafter, Judge Alison Nathan found that Swiss law applied to the class’ claims.

In February 2021, the court ruled in favor of the Sudanese refugees, rejecting BNPP’s renewed effort to extinguish the claims and finding that the plaintiffs had alleged enough facts to state a claim under Article 50.1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations, demonstrating that BNP Paribas knew or should have known that it was fueling - and profiting from - genocide. Describing the bank’s alleged scheme with the Sudanese regime as a “profitable business relationship,” the court found that the bank allegedly “was able to generate those profits for the Regime (taking a cut for itself) in part because of genocide.”

In 2022, Judge Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York denied BNPP’s attempt to dismiss this case under forum non conveniens. The court found that Plaintiffs’ choice of forum is “owed substantial deference,” and that BNPP’s motion was filed in bad faith.

In April 2024, Judge Hellerstein denied the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment nearly in its entirety. Judge Hellerstein noted that “BNPP admitted its conscious cooperation” with Sudan’s genocidal acts. He further found that this case cannot be dismissed for lack of adequate causation where “there are too many facts showing a relationship between the dollar financing provided by BNPP, and the atrocities perpetrated by the [Government of Sudan].”

On May 9, 2024, Judge Hellerstein granted a motion to certify the class containing over 20,000 Sudanese refugees and asylees. In a hearing on May 7, 2024, the judge decided to certify a Rule 23(b)(3). The proceedings will be bifurcated into a class trial on forced displacement and subsequent bellwethers for individuals claiming additional injuries based on torture, sexual violence, and other abuses. Judge Hellerstein sent a clear message to BNPP: “This case doesn't do any good for Bank Paribas. This is a bad memory that needs to be extirpated, and the only way that's going to be done is by resolution of this case. So, I think we have a common purpose here that we can work with to achieve a just result for many, many people without compromising the constitutional rights to a trial by jury.”

Hausfeld is honored to place our expertise in class actions, transnational litigation, and international investigation in the service of Sudanese refugees in what is now one of the largest human rights cases in the United States.


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