Reports say KPMG LLP is close to putting behind it a federal investigation into its sale of possibly illegal tax shelters.

Settlement talks that would allow KPMG to avoid indictment charges that could lead to its demise have been going on behind closed doors for most of the summer. A fine between $300 million and $500 million and an agreement to open its business up to independent monitors are likely conditions of any deal. The accounting firm would be placed on probation, and charges could eventually be completely dropped by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

An agreement could be sent to a Manhattan court for approval before the end of the month. Several former KPMG partners could still face criminal charges independent of the firm.

Meanwhile, the other firms making up the Big Four -- Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers -- have reportedly told partners not to steal away clients or personnel from KPMG LLP while it is under investigation.

Sources from inside the firms, as well as from inside the White House, have said in published reports that the firms and the Bush administration are leery of the demise of another major accounting firm. Arthur Andersen's indictment in connection with the failure of energy giant Enron was eventually overturned on a technicality, but not before the former Big Five accounting firm went out of business.

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