So far, that arrangement seems to have been achieved. The question, however, is whether it amounts to justice.
The United States attorney general,Eric H. Holder Jr., believes that it does. "This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law," he said in a statement on Monday about Credit Suisse's guilty plea.
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In some respects, Credit Suisse is definitely being punished. The conviction is a stubborn stain on Credit Suisse's name. The bank finds itself in the company of corporate felons that include Drexel Burnham Lambert, the ethically challenged Wall Street firm, and Arthur Andersen, Enron's auditor. (Both firms died in part because the government pursued tough measures against them.)
In addition, the $2.6 billion in penalties that Credit Suisse has agreed to pay is not an insignificant sum. In fact, some legal experts say that figure most likely far exceeds the amount of unpaid taxes in the disputed accounts. In this case, unlike so many others, the American authorities actually pursued individuals who they believed were guilty of wrongdoing. It indicted eight Credit Suisse employees, obtaining guilty pleas from two so far.
Read More Credit Suisse sees no impact from US tax settlement
And a convicted bank faces a severe response from law enforcement agencies if it does more wrongdoing, according to an official in the Justice Department who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Felons almost always face even harsher punishments if they reoffend," the person said. "And given its status, the bank has to be concerned not just about U.S. regulators and prosecutors, but also regulators around the world."
Still, the settlement left some critics of big banks disappointed for what it didn't do.
It did not produce the names of people whose accounts may have been used for tax evasion. Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who led a congressional investigation of Credit Suisse's tax-related activities, said that he supported the Justice Department's actions against the bank, but added: "It is a mystery to me why the U.S. government didn't require as part of the agreement that the bank cough up some of the names of the U.S. clients with secret Swiss bank accounts."
Read More Credit Suisse to pay $2.5B+ in fines, restitution
The bank's most senior executives, including Mr. Dougan, got to keep their jobs, leading another senator to criticize the government's settlement. "Nor does the plea deal hold any officers, directors or key executives individually accountable for wrongdoing, raising the question of whether it will sufficiently deter similar misconduct in the future," Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said in a statement.
A conviction may in theory prompt trading partners or clients to stop doing business with the bank, but Mr. Dougan suggested on Tuesday that they were not withdrawing. Even the bank's public statement on the conviction was somewhat tepid. In the statement Credit Suisse released on Monday, Mr. Dougan's comments did not contain the words "guilty" or "conviction." Instead, he merely said, "We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement."
Read More Credit Suisse guilty plea likely to be announced on Monday
"If there are no consequences from a criminal conviction, they are just dumbing down a criminal conviction," Rebel A. Cole, a professor of finance at DePaul University, said.
Still, real-world considerations usually make it impossible to achieve perfect justice — and the Credit Suisse case has gray areas.
In some respects, it was just as much a fight between the American and Swiss governments as a battle between Credit Suisse and United States law enforcement authorities. The Justice Department wanted Credit Suisse to provide the names of clients who were potential tax evaders, but the Swiss government did not grant an exemption to Swiss law that in theory would have allowed the bank to do that. The Justice Department nevertheless pressed ahead with its criminal case against the bank.
Read More Credit Suisse CEO pressured to resign in tax probe
But the issue of the client names wasn't the only reason the Justice Department pursued a criminal conviction. Its statement of facts laid out areas unrelated to the names in which Credit Suisse's management could have been more cooperative.
The bank did not retain certain documents, it failed to interview potentially culpable bankers before they left the firm, and it did not start an internal inquiry until 2011, which was many months after the American authorities began to step up their scrutiny of Swiss banks for tax evasion.