HSBC Holdings Plc—Europe’s biggest bank—could soon pay big bucks for money-laundering lapses.

People familiar with the matter told Thomson Reuters that HSBC might pay a $1.8 billion fine as part of a settlement with U.S. law-enforcement agencies for its role in international money-laundering operations. The deal could be announced as soon as next week.

The possible settlement will set the tone for U.S. prosecutors’ aggressiveness toward stopping illegal flows of money through U.S. banks. In regulatory filings, HSBC said it could face criminal charges. However, people familiar with the possible settlement say it likely will involve HSBC entering into a deferred prosecution agreement, which would allow the company to dodge prosecution if it admits wrongdoing, pays a fine and agrees to make compliance changes.

Deferred prosecution agreements, which give prosecutors an option aside from indicting a company or dropping a case, “have become a mainstay of white-collar criminal law enforcement,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in September during an appearance at the New York City Bar Association. He added that the agreements “have had a truly transformative effect on particular companies and, more generally, on corporate culture across the globe.”

But some critics don’t see it that way. Jimmy Gurule, a Notre Dame Law School professor and former enforcement official at the U.S. Treasury, told Thomson Reuters that a deferred prosecution agreement would make a “mockery of the criminal justice system.” He says law-enforcement agencies would make a bigger impact if they indicted individuals. “That would send a shockwave through the international finance services community. It would put the fear of God in bank officials that knowingly disregard the law.”

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