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Are we moving away from "too big to jail"?

Workers outside the Credit Suisse headquarters on December 14, 2011 in New York City. Two former Credit Suisse traders will most likely face charges related to the 2008 financial crisis.

Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas, according to reporting in the New York Times

Ben Protess, with the Dealbook section of the New York Times, wrote:

Federal prosecutors are nearing criminal charges against some of the world’s biggest banks, according to lawyers briefed on the matter, a development that could produce the first guilty plea from a major bank in more than two decades.

In doing so, prosecutors are confronting the popular belief that Wall Street institutions have grown so important to the economy that they cannot be charged. A lack of criminal prosecutions of banks and their leaders fueled a public outcry over the perception that Wall Street giants are “too big to jail.”

"These investigations have been going on for years," Protess told Marketplace. "This is kind of a new batch of cases the last few years."

In the case of the Swiss bank, it involves allegations that it helped clients avoid taxes. In the case of BNP Paribas, it's about doing business with companies in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. The Times says this would challenge a common belief in the financial world that big banks are too important to charge in criminal cases.

"In the Credit Suisse case, that one could really be in the next couple weeks," Protess says. "We're expecting either a guilty plea for the main arm of Credit Suisse in Zurich, or perhaps even the parent company."

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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