By Jody Godoy

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday approved Allianz’s $6 billion settlement over the 2020 collapse of a group of investment funds, ending a scandal that took down one of the German company’s U.S. subsidiaries.

Allianz settled with U.S. authorities in May 2022 over allegations that its U.S. unit defrauded investors in the now-defunct Structured Alpha Funds. The subsidiary, U.S. Allianz Global Investors (AGI), pleaded guilty to criminal securities fraud and agreed to pay the fines and restitution to investors.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan imposed what she called the “astronomical” financial sentence on Wednesday.

“This is a sad and sorry state of affairs,” she said of the allegations.

Allianz paid around $5 billion to investors, and more than $840 million to U.S. government authorities to settle the allegations, the company said at the time.

The penalties in the case were initially announced as totaling $6 billion, but U.S. prosecutors agreed to accept partial payment of a forfeiture order, they said in court papers.

Once with more than $11 billion of assets under management, the Structured Alpha funds lost more than $7 billion as COVID-19 roiled markets in February and March 2020.

Prosecutors said AGI misled pension funds by understating the Structured Alpha funds’ risks, and by having “significant gaps” in its oversight.

The sentencing had been postponed since last year to give Allianz’s Pacific Investment Management Co (PIMCO) time to negotiate its ability to keep handling $170 billion in U.S. retirement funds despite AGI’s conviction.

Companies that break criminal laws or commit fraud are generally banned from activities such as conducting private offerings or managing pension plans under U.S. law. The rule also applies to the company’s affiliates.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration granted PIMCO a five-year exemption from a 10-year ban on July 5. The asset manager can seek to extend the exemption.

AGI, which was subject to a 10 year ban, is expected to wind down its business, its attorney said in court.

In the wake of the criminal case, Allianz moved about $120 billion of investor assets to Voya Financial (VOYA.N) in exchange for a 24% stake in Voya’s asset management business.

(Reporting by Jody Godoy in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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