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Justice Department's criminal division chief to step down

Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer speaks about HSBC during a news conference at
Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer speaks about HSBC during a news conference at

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Justice Department's criminal division, who has shouldered much of the blame for bringing few cases related to the financial crisis, but who also led the unit to record settlements, will step down on March 1.

"As I wrote to the President, and want to tell you, serving as the head of this remarkable Division has been the greatest privilege of my professional life," Lanny Breuer said in a memo to criminal division employees dated Tuesday.

Breuer, 54, who previously worked as a defense lawyer and in the Clinton White House, has led the division since 2009.

He was criticized for the department's failure to bring major prosecutions against companies and individuals who played a role in the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Under Breuer, the department decided in August not to bring criminal charges against Goldman Sachs after Congress had spent more than a year looking at the investment band and had asked for a criminal inquiry.

But Breuer also steered the division to enter into several record-breaking settlements involving financial and environmental crimes.

For example, BP Plc agreed in November to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties, the largest in history, on charges related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

And London-based bank HSBC Holdings plc also agreed in December to pay a total of $1.9 billion, including the forfeiture of $1.25 billion, the largest to date, to resolve charges that it failed to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and let itself be used by major Mexican drug cartels.

The division has also played a role in investigating banks that allegedly manipulated benchmark interest rates, including the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor.

In December, a Japanese unit of UBS pleaded guilty and the Swiss bank agreed to pay a total of $1.5 billion in fines to regulators in the United States, the UK and Switzerland to resolve related charges.

Barclays previously entered into a related, non-prosecution agreement and agreed to pay around $450 million in penalties.

(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Neil Stempleman and Leslie Gevirtz)

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