“Government documents have recently emerged that offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Obama administration’s decision-making as it prepared to take actions against two big British banks.
In the case of the banks suspected of funneling billions of dollars in tainted money through the American financial system — HSBC and Standard Chartered — authorities decided last year to level hefty fines rather than seek criminal charges. Those decisions raised concerns in Washington that some banks, having grown so large and interconnected, are too big to indict.
The internal government documents, which revealed some tension among authorities about how aggressively to pursue the cases, suggest that at least one agency, the Treasury Department, was alert to such concerns. When authorities were being blamed for letting HSBC off the hook, Treasury officials assured top aides to Timothy F. Geithner, then the Treasury secretary, that monetary penalties were coming as “quickly as possible,” according to the documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The agency also contacted and persuaded a news organization to withdraw a report that wrongly blamed Treasury for not indicting HSBC, the documents indicate. (It’s the job of the Justice Department to decide criminal charges, Treasury explained.)”
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