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For BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Too Big to Jail Gets Lost in Translation

BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, a unit of BNP Paribas at the company's offices in Paris on Jan. 8
BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, a unit of BNP Paribas at the company's offices in Paris on Jan. 8Photograph by Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

The long-awaited get-tough-on-banks campaign has taken on fresh life as investigations into BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse have come to a critical point, with top executives of each making the rounds in Washington and New York in recent days to try to stave off criminal charges against their banks. Both investigations now have potential price tags attached, with accompanying dueling media rollouts: Prosecutors are asking for more than $3.5 billion to settle with BNP Paribas, according to Bloomberg News, while the number being floated for Credit Suisse to put its troubles behind it is more than $2 billion, according to Reuters.

France’s BNP is under investigation for doing business with countries under U.S. sanction, such as Iran and Sudan, while the Swiss bank Credit Suisse is being scrutinized for helping wealthy Americans shelter their money from taxes. The BNP investigation is conduced by the Justice Department in Washington, as well as Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, while the Credit Suisse case involves the tax division of the DOJ and federal prosecutors in Virginia. Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s superintendent of financial services, is said to be looking into both.