Still, for UBS and HSBC, billion dollar-plus sized fines could have been worse. The New York Times reported in mid-December that U.S. lawmakers were considering a far more punitive enforcement of HSBC's money laundering violations that could have precluded the bank from operating in the U.S. Meanwhile, a guilty plea in the U.S. - UBS is alleged to have manipulated seven different rates - could have spelled a similar fate for the Swiss bank.

In 2009, UBS paid a then record a $780 million fine with U.S. tax authorities to settle a tax evasion scandal that landed former employees in prison and unveiled billions in unpaid taxes among thousands of wealthy Americans. Recently, a UBS trader, Kweku Adoboli, was given a seven year prison sentence for a multi-year rogue trading scheme that caused the bank a $2.3 billion loss.

Other European banking conglomerates have also come under scrutiny for violating U.S. controls, such as anti-money laundering regulations. On Monday, Standard Chartered ( STAN) paid $327 million to federal and state authorities to settle allegations the bank transacted payments for restricted Iranian and Sudanese clients.

In June, ING settled with U.S. authorities over restricted payments to Iran and Cuba for $619 million.

Meanwhile, roughly a dozen global banks -- including many of the largest lenders in the U.S. -- face regulatory fines related to the manipulation of short-term interest rates.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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