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BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Seek Leniency in U.S., NYT Says

BNP Paribas CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafe
Jean-Laurent Bonnafe, chief executive officer of BNP Paribas SA. Photographer: Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse Group AG officials met with U.S. authorities and found that prosecutors were unreceptive to proposals that their parent companies avoid criminal charges, the New York Times reported.

BNP Paribas Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe and two of his lieutenants met with U.S. officials in Washington last week to warn of the potential impact of a guilty plea on the French bank and the broader economy, the newspaper reported, citing people briefed on the talks. David O’Neil, the Justice Department’s criminal division chief, and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, indicated they had doubts over the Paris-based bank’s concerns, the Times said.

In Credit Suisse’s case, prosecutors privately indicated that they are unwilling to charge a newly formed unit created by the Swiss bank to house “U.S. offshore business,” according to the report. The Zurich-based bank is expected to strike a deal with prosecutors as soon as this week, the newspaper said.

The U.S., which has been investigating Credit Suisse for at least three years into whether it helped Americans evade taxes, is pressing for a guilty plea from the parent company, a person familiar with the negotiations said last week. BNP Paribas is under investigation for possible violation of sanctions barring business with prohibited countries.

Holder, Lawsky

BNP Paribas fell 0.5 percent to 52.73 euros by 9:30 a.m. in Paris trading, bringing the decline this year to 6.9 percent. Credit Suisse slipped 0.5 percent to 26.98 Swiss francs in Zurich, and is down 1 percent this year.

Christine Chan, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for BNP Paribas, declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News today. Sheel Kohli, a spokesman for Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, also declined to comment.

Swiss officials would view an indictment of Credit Suisse by the U.S. as destabilizing for the bank and the broader financial system, people familiar with the matter said this month. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that his department is readying criminal cases against banks that show financial institutions aren’t too big to prosecute.

The executives from BNP Paribas met separately in New York last week with Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, the Times reported. Lawsky explained his plans to penalize at least a dozen of the bank’s employees for their role in processing transactions for Sudan and Iran, the newspaper said.

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