Straight from the top law enforcement official in the land's mouth, in Eric Holder's weekly video address:
According to Reuters, banks facing imminent criminal charges include Swiss bank Credit Suisse, for helping clients evade taxes, and French bank BNP Paribas, which may have violated US sanctions on countries like Iran and Sudan. But it appears, as usual, that the banks are to be slapped with fines rather than jail time for any of their employees.
The fact that Holder felt the need to specifically disclaim the notion that the size of a financial institution cannot be a "shield from prosecution"—his words—by the very people sworn to uphold the law is telling enough. And it means he's come along way. As Wall Street watchdog Matt Taibbi told Democracy Now, Holder is seen as one of the originators of the idea:
Originally—so, this—to answer the second part of your original question, "Where does this come from? Where does this doctrine come from?" way back in 1999, when Eric Holder was a deputy attorney general in the—in Clinton’s administration, he wrote a memo that has now come to be known as "the Holder Memo." And in it, he outlined a number of things. Actually, it was originally considered a get-tough-on-corporate-crime memo, because it gave prosecutors a number of new tools with which they could go after corporate criminals. But at the bottom of it, there was this thing that he laid out called the "collateral consequences doctrine." And what "collateral consequences" meant was that if you’re a prosecutor and you’re targeting one of these big corporate offenders and you’re worried that you may affect innocent victims, that shareholders or innocent executives may lose their jobs, you may consider other alternatives, other remedies besides criminal prosecutions—in other words, fines, nonprosecution agreements, deferred prosecution agreements. And again, at the time, it was a completely sensible thing to lay out. Of course it makes sense to not always destroy a company if you can avoid it. But what they’ve done is they’ve conflated that sometimes-sensible policy with a policy of not going after any individuals for any crimes. And that’s just totally unacceptable.
Financial giant HSBC, which admitted to laundering billions of dollars for narco-traffickers and terrorists, is the poster-child for this—the bank evaded prosecution entirely in 2012. Instead, it paid a fine and its executives agreed to give up their bonuses. DOJ officials justified the deal by claiming that prosecution would have jeopardized the entire banking system.
Now, Holder says he's personally overseeing bank prosecutions and while he won't name any names, he expects to "reaffirm the principle that no individual or entity that does harm to our economy is ever above the law" in the coming months.
I'll believe it when I see it.
UPDATE: Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old Occupy Wall Street protester, was convicted Monday of elbowing a cop during a protest. She faces up to seven years in prison.