WASHINGTON — ING Bank has agreed to pay $619 million to settle charges that it violated U.S. sanctions — the largest such settlement in history, the Treasury Department said Tuesday.

The settlement resolves an investigation by the Office of Foreign Assets Control into charges that the bank intentionally manipulated information about U.S. sanctioned parties in more than 20,000 financial and trade transactions between 2002 and 2007.

In parallel with the civil enforcement action, OFAC referred the matter for criminal investigation in light of the "sheer number of apparent violations, the array of stratagems employed by ING Bank to conceal its actions and the seriousness of the conduct," Treasury said.

"Today's historic settlement should serve as a clear warning to anyone who would consider profiting by evading U.S. sanctions," said Adam Szubin, director of OFAC, in a press release.

According to Treasury, ING employees allegedly began omitting references to Cuba in payment messages sent to the U.S. in order "to prevent U.S. financial institutions from identifying and interdicting prohibited transactions."

The government said the employees acted "at the instruction of senior bank management," and that the practice was widespread. In addition to removing references to sanctioned countries, the government alleged that ING routed payments on behalf of Cuban clients through other clients in order to obscure their identities and helped finance the export of U.S. goods to Iran.

"For more than a decade, ING Bank helped provide state sponsors of terror and other sanctioned entities with access to the U.S. financial system, allowing them to move billions of dollars through U.S. banks for illicit purchases and other activities," said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

ING Bank has told OFAC it has terminated the conduct which led to the conduct. Under the agreement, ING Bank is required to review and submit reports to OFAC that include risk-focused sampling of U.S. payments to ensure compliance with sanctions regulations.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, ING bank said that the violations were "serious and unacceptable" and stopped in 2007.

"The facts as compiled in the statement of the Department of Justice describe a very different ING than the company we're all working so hard for today," said Jan Hommen, chief executive officer of ING Group. "Since starting the investigations in 2006, ING Bank has taken decisive actions to strengthen compliance throughout the organisation and heighten employee awareness of compliance risks. This continues to be a key priority in the interests of our customers, employees and other stakeholders, and serves to ensure we remain abreast of compliance risks in an increasingly complex financial services industry."

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