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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Have You Heard the Joke about the HSBC Money-Laundering Settlement?

Posted by on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 1:12 PM

The settlement is the joke.

This news is a few days old, but just in case you missed it: HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, has been given a tiny, $2 billion slap on the wrist for being the go-to institution for cartel money laundering, rogue state banking, and other financial no-nos for a decade. From the Guardian:

Britain's biggest bank was forced to pay $1.9bn (£1.17bn) fine to settle allegations by US regulators that it allowed itself to be used to launder billions of dollars for drug barons and potential terrorists for nearly a decade until 2010.

The US department of justice said HSBC had moved $881m for two drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia and accepted $15bn in unexplained "bulk cash", across the bank's counters in Mexico, Russia and other countries. In some branches the boxes of cash being deposited were so big the tellers' windows had to be enlarged. The US authorities said HSBC did not face criminal charges because the bank was too big to prosecute and no individuals were implicated.

"Too big to jail" is the headline du jour for this story, and some people are outraged that the penalties—including senior anti-money laundering officers having to partially defer some of their bonus—aren't tougher. It's depressing, but I can't say I'm surprised. Uneven justice for banks and individuals seems like a basic fact of American life these days. But if you want a taste of the outrage, you can find it at Rolling Stone:

So you might ask, what's the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC's position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we're talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you're the prosecutor, you've got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they've ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby's auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don't think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn't it? The only problem is, that's exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.

If you're poor, the drug war is a real thing with real consequences—prison, death, destabilized families, cities, and countries. If you're a bank, it's a moneymaker and the law is just a minor inconvenience.


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And this is exactly why the book list below is so appropriate today:

The Ultimate Christmas Book List for the Discerning Human

The Hellhound of Wall Street by Michael Perino

Wealth, Power and the Crisis in Laissez Faire Capitalism by Donald Gibson

The Billionaires’ Ball by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Extreme Money by Satyajit Das

Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson

Debt: the first 5,000 years by David Graeber

The Web of Debt by Ellen Hodgson Brown, JD

Retirement Heist by Ellen Schultz

The Fine Print by David Cay Johnston

Battling Wall Street: the Kennedy presidency by Donald Gibson

The Bubble and Beyond by Michael Hudson (All of Prof. Hudson’s books)

Wall Street Capitalism: The Theory of the Bondholding Class by E. Ray Canterbery

Greenspan’s Fraud by Ravi Batra

Other People’s Money: the corporate mugging of America by Nomi Prins

The Rich and the Super-Rich by Ferdinand Lundberg

Into the Buzzsaw by Kristina Borjesson

Thy Will Be Done by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett (if you can obtain his books on Du Pont, they will be highly rewarding!!!!)


Absolute Friends by John le Carré

Relentless by Dean Koontz

Posted by sgt_doom on December 19, 2012 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Turns out in a society built on the credo "anything for a buck" people will do anything for a buck.
Posted by Proteus on December 18, 2012 at 6:23 PM · Report this
@22 I'll actually push back on this assertion. The justification for banks is that they decide who are "good" and "bad" risks are for capital allocation. I have a few issues with this. The first is that the major banks are fairly homogeneous in WHO actually makes these decisions :cough old white guys cough:. This means that they're likely to interpret good investments in a culturally biased and discriminatory way.

Beyond that, we've seen that the major banks couldn't even perform their culturally biased role of picking good risks. My dream is to see a sort of societal Kickstarter. Any citizen could bring forward their ideas for an enterprise, and citizens would be free to vote for funding allocations, or even volunteer their labor. When you think about it, that could more equitably replace a fair chunk of what the banking sector does.
Posted by Tent_Liberation_Army on December 18, 2012 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 26
@21 banks having 20 percent of the GDP share are not necessary. Banks with outrageous CEO pay are not necessary.

We did perfectly fine in the US with 5 percent of GDP going to all finance, and CEOs making 20 times base worker pay.

@25 for the win, followed by drone strikes.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 18, 2012 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Like the bumper-sticker says "I will believe that corporations are people the day that Texas executes one of them."

The solution, of course, is not a fine but to cancel their corporate charter and prohibit them - or their successors - from operating in this country for 15 years. They should be allowed about ninety days to suspend business activity and about 180 days to divest all of their assets. Anything they can't sell in that time should be seized by the feds.

That is jail for corporations: they are not allowed to freely conduct their business.
Posted by Charlie Mas on December 18, 2012 at 4:38 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 24


*gasps audibly... faints dead away*
Posted by Urgutha Forka on December 18, 2012 at 4:21 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 23
Equal Justice Under Rug.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on December 18, 2012 at 3:44 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 22

Banks in general are necessary for the economy, but not this bank specifically.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 18, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Fnarf 21
Unfortunately poor people are not necessary for the economy, while banks are -- and not just to drug cartels. So HBSC will continue -- hell, they'll probably continue laundering the same money, just more carefully.

What needs to happen is not "no banks", it's a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act separation between commercial and investment banking. Our good friend Bill Clinton killed that one, alas, back in 1999. I'm sure it's a coincidence that banks and other high-finance institutions have been totally out of control and wrecking the global economy since then.
Posted by Fnarf on December 18, 2012 at 3:29 PM · Report this
i was laughed off this site some months ago for saying the rule of law was no longer in effect in this country. the rule of law is no longer in effect in this country.
Posted by philosophy school dropout on December 18, 2012 at 3:26 PM · Report this
treacle 19
Further proof that the "drug war" is really a war on the civilian population, and has little to do with actually stopping drugs from being bought and sold.

"Gotta keep those unruly urban populations under control, otherwise they'll start to actually band together and stand up for their rights! Like the Blacks did in the 60s and 70s. Can't have that; gets in the way of wealth creation (for us)."
Posted by treacle on December 18, 2012 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
Nothing like a few armed drones over America to scare away the job exporters.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 18, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 17
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on December 18, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Cracker Jack 16
@1 - What do you know? I put something on my Facebook page! It was scathing, yet ironically humorous.
Posted by Cracker Jack on December 18, 2012 at 2:44 PM · Report this
chinaski 15
perhaps our forefathers would argue this as an example of why they created the 2nd amendment.
Posted by chinaski on December 18, 2012 at 2:43 PM · Report this
What we really need is a Financial Nuremberg Trial for all the world to bring the culprits of the last 30 years to justice before an international council.…

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 18, 2012 at 2:30 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 13
WADR to the tragedy in CT, I find it, in media terms, a sideshow. The real story is the HSBC. Both the US & the UK have publicly admitted that there are entities which are more powerful than they are. The entire drug war, war on terrorism, is a complete sham, and these governments no longer have any legitimacy.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on December 18, 2012 at 2:25 PM · Report this
Former Lurker 12
Maybe they can just rebrand themselves like Blackwater did....
Posted by Former Lurker on December 18, 2012 at 2:17 PM · Report this
These folks got up to 65 years for sending money to Gazan charities! "In the Holy Land Five case, the defendants were convicted of sending aid to zakat committees who operated in occupied Palestine. Zakat is the Islamic principle of giving a portion of your money to the poor. The government successfully claimed that the zakat committees were linked to Hamas, a designated U.S. terrorist organization--despite the fact that, as Allison Deger pointed out on this site, “the Holy Land Foundation was donating to the same zakat charities that the U.S. government supported via USAID.” The “material support” the five men were convicted of was the sending of aid to committees that distribute relief to poor Palestinians."…

But bankers supporting illegal drug activity get no jail time and probably huge holiday bonuses for dodging the crime.
Posted by Linda J on December 18, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
@7 or make it so the corporation can't operate for however long the individual person's sentence would be (ie 20 years in jail means no banking for HSBC for 20 years)
Posted by high and bi on December 18, 2012 at 2:13 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 9
Pwease be vewy qwiet. Yew'll fwighten the job kweators!
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on December 18, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
All you actually have to do is decharter the company, stick the top listed execs and top three shareowners in jail for a year or two, say in GITMO, and seize all the "profit" in the deal and you'd be surprised how fast they'd stop doing stuff like this.

But that would take guts.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 18, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
long-time reader 7
It seems to me that a logical consequence of "corporate personhood" is that if this "person" commits a crime, then all the executives should serve the time.
Posted by long-time reader on December 18, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this
"Too big to jail" is a silly statement. When a corporation commits a crime, that by itself is not a basis to jail directors or officers, who must be charged separately.
Posted by Algernon on December 18, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 4
thus it has always been, thus it shall ever be.
Posted by Max Solomon on December 18, 2012 at 1:39 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
No jail terms.

No large fine.

Meanwhile jails are filled with people who, all together, never stole a fraction of that amount.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 18, 2012 at 1:24 PM · Report this
Gordon Werner 2
jail time for all the executives ... like federal prison jail ... not country club jail
Posted by Gordon Werner on December 18, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 1
People are so outraged that I predict they'll do nothing.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on December 18, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this

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