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FBI Director James Comey, center, flanked by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, left, and Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, speaks Monday about an $8.9 billion settlement between the government and French bank BNP Paribas. The offices of Vance and Bharara have spearheaded investigations of banks accused of violating U.S. sanctions.FBI Director James Comey, center, flanked by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, left, and Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, speaks Monday about an $8.9 billion settlement between the government and French bank BNP Paribas. The offices of Vance and Bharara have spearheaded investigations of banks accused of violating U.S. sanctions. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The Justice Department’s $8.9 billion settlement with BNP Paribas gave prosecutors a chance to argue that they’re not afraid to get tough on big banks. But it also highlighted the roles of two large law firms that counseled BNP on transactions at the heart of the government’s case, suggesting that the French Bank relied on questionable advice to justify violating U.S. sanctions regimes.

In a statement of facts filed with Monday’s criminal plea deal, the DOJ wrote that two law firms—identified only as Law Firm 1 and Law Firm 2—advised the bank about prohibited transactions with Sudan, Iran and Cuba from at least 2004 to 2006. Based on a June 13 story by France’s Le Monde and reports in the U.S. identifying one of the firms as a well-respected U.S. firm, Law Firm 1 is apparently Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. The Litigation Daily, an affiliate of the New York Law Journal, has confirmed that Law Firm 2 is Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

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