Feb 19 (Reuters) - The following are the top stories on the New York Times business pages. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.
* Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the U.S. Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations.
* Office Depot Inc and OfficeMax Inc are in talks to combine in an all-stock deal that may be announced as soon as this week, a person briefed on the matter said. While talks are at an advanced stage, they may still fall apart, this person cautioned.
* Citing a Europe-wide recession, France’s Socialist government is moving away from its promise to bring its budget deficit down to 3 percent of gross domestic product this year, arguing that the recession creates an exceptional circumstance requiring less austerity.
* Reader’s Digest filed for bankruptcy in another effort to cut down the debt that has plagued the pocket-size publication for years. The company is hoping to convert about $465 million of its debt into equity held by its creditors.
* Drug maker Novartis AG plans to pay departing chairman Daniel Vasella $78 million to prevent him from sharing knowledge with competitors, adding fuel to an already heated debate about executive pay.
* Striking ground workers and flight attendants for Iberia, the money-losing Spanish airline, clashed with riot police officers at Madrid-Barajas Airport to protest a plan to eliminate more than 3,800 jobs.
* Pharmaceutical companies Roche Holding AG and GlaxoSmithKline are helping to develop tests for illicit use in order to keep their offerings from being abused by athletes.
* A growing body of digital evidence leaves little doubt that an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American companies and government agencies start in a 12-story office building on the edge of Shanghai, China.