The judges refer BNP Paribas Personal Finance to the Criminal Court for “misleading commercial practice” in the “Helvet Immo” case.
La filiale à 100 % de BNP Paribas est accusée d’avoir dissimulé les risques de ses prêts en francs suisses Helvet Immo vendus en 2008-2009, au détriment de plus de 4 600 emprunteurs.
BNP Paribas Personal Finance (PF), known to the general public under the Cetelem trademark, will ultimately be judged for “misleading commercial practice” in the case of real estate loans in Swiss francs Helvet Immo. In accordance with the requisitions of the Paris public prosecutor’s office, on 29 August the judges ordered the transfer to the Paris Criminal Court of this wholly-owned subsidiary of BNP Paribas.
In the order for reference, which Le Monde obtained a copy of, the judges cite the example of a couple whose initial amount of the loan in Swiss francs was equivalent to 143 867 euros, and who had to face an additional cost capital of more than 46,700 euros (excluding additional interest costs).
“A long, confused and unintelligible loan offer”
Have clients measured the risk of these credits? In this order, the judges criticize BNP Paribas PF for having “produced a long and confused, unintelligible loan offer, where the exchange rate risk is approached only in an implicit and allusive way, without the very terms of risk of change are not used. However, the meaning of the law of consumer protection “is to put on the professional’s responsibility an obligation of clarity in the information”.
These Helvet Immo loans mainly concerned the purchase of housing for rent under the tax schemes Robien or Scellier and were marketed by intermediaries in banking operations. BNP Paribas PF “has issued to its intermediaries in contact with consumers arguments with the same shortcomings, insisting on the competitiveness of the rate and failing to accurately describe the currency risk, ” the judges still emphasize. A former regional director of the agency, cited in the order, also told the judges that serious doubts existed from the marketing of the product.
“Several hundred million euros”
“If the bank were to be condemned, the borrowers could be compensated at 100% of the currency risk. This could cost the institution a total of several hundred million euros, ” said Charles Constantin-Vallet, a lawyer for more than 800 civil parties and the consumer association CLCV, which started a group action against the subsidiary BNP Paribas. In addition to the criminal aspect and this “class action”, private individuals have also launched civil actions.
“We take note of this order. BNP Paribas Personal Finance will answer the terms of these before the court and challenges, as it has always done, the facts that are alleged against it, ” responded the institution, saying that since January 2012, several jurisdictions have rendered decisions in the context of individual proceedings – in civil cases – and that “a majority has ruled in favor of BNP Paribas Personal Finance” .
Since that case, the July 2013 Banking Act prohibits foreign currency loans for consumers who do not have a principal income – or wealth – in that currency.