BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse Group have appealed to U.S. authorities to allow their local subsidiaries, rather than the parent companies, to plead guilty to criminal charges they face in the United States, The New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the talks.
Prosecutors are investigating BNP over allegations that it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and other countries, and are conducting a probe of Credit Suisse (CS) over allegations that it helped wealthy Americans evade U.S. taxes.
The newspaper said prosecutors appeared to balk at the overtures for leniency.
The banks are concerned that criminal charges against the parents could imperil their larger operations.
Julia Boyce, a spokeswoman for BNP Paribas in Paris, declined to comment on the report.
Representatives of Credit Suisse and the U.S. Department of Justice weren't immediately available.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video last week that the Justice Department was pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions that could result in action in the coming weeks and months, and that no company was "too big to jail."
Two people with knowledge of the matter also told Reuters last week that prosecutors have been pushing for Credit Suisse to plead guilty in connection with the probe.
Credit Suisse is expected to strike a deal with prosecutors as soon as this week, the New York Times said.
The newspaper also said that BNP Paribas Chief Executive Officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafe and other top executives traveled to Washington and New York, arguing that a guilty plea could wreak havoc on the bank, the French economy and beyond.
The paper said U.S. prosecutors had held their own meetings with regulators to gain assurances that a guilty plea wouldn't cost BNP its license to operate in the United States.
An eventual settlement for BNP is likely to be closer to $2 billion than the $1.1 billion that had been set aside as a provision last year, and will likely involve a guilty plea, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last month.