Business & Finance

Bank of America and FleetBoston Financial, which are about to merge, agreed to pay $515 million in restitution and penalties stemming from a Securities and Exchange Commission probe of improper trading practices. The deal settles allegations that the financial giants allowed big investors advantages that were not offered to small investors. The banks also agreed to reduce investor fees by $160 million.

Safeco Corp. agreed to sell its life insurance and investment businesses to White Mountains Insurance Group of Bermuda and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for $1.35 billion. The Redmond, Wash., company said it wants to concentrate on selling property and casualty policies.

Another US bank will be acquired by BNP Paribas, the largest financial institution in Europe as measured by market capitalization, reports said. The latest deal calls for BNP's BancWest subsidiary in Honolulu, to pay $1.2 billion for Community First Bankshares Inc. of Fargo, N.D. BNP, based in Paris, bought BancWest two years ago.

General Electric said it will buy InVision Technologies, a developer of explosives-detection technology, for just under $1 billion. The Newark, Calif., company is a major supplier of airport screening systems to the Transportation Security Administration.

Bridgestone-Firestone North America will pay $149 million to settle class-action lawsuits stemming from its 2000 recall of potentially defective automobile tires under a deal OK'd by a federal court in Houston Monday. The settlement involves only plaintiffs who weren't hurt or did not experience property damage in accidents involving Firestone tires. At least 271 traffic deaths in the US were blamed on those tires, most of which were sold with Ford Explorer vehicles.

Troubled Nortel Networks placed its top financial officer on paid leave, pending completion of a review of earnings reports for 2003 and possibly earlier years. The Brampton, Ontario, company, a leading maker of telephone networking equipment, revealed late last year that auditors had identified problems in its accounting procedures and that about $900 million in liabilities weren't reported correctly.

BellSouth Corp. said it will cut 778 jobs in its technical, repair, and clerical ranks by the end of June.

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