Drug trafficking involves “cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale” of illicit substances. Money laundering practices are utilized to fund terrorist regimes, evade taxes, and circumvent regulatory bodies. Nuclear proliferation occurs when fissionable materials, weapons, and/or knowledge is transferred to another country. If I committed any of these atrocities, I’d be jailed for life, killed, or on death row. If I assisted these assaults on democracy as a banker, I’d be enjoying a little vacation and bonus check.
In 2007-08, we entered a massive recession and crisis due in part to mortgage manipulation and banking maleficence. Last year, JPMorgan settled with the federal government for $13 billion. Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that their investigation showed that the company’s “conduct” was largely responsible for the mortgage crisis.
A few years ago, LIBOR was heavily manipulated. It’s a $360 trillion market responsible for setting borrowing rates around the globe. In 2012, Barclays Bank paid the U.S. $453 million to settle over severe market manipulation. The government found that the bank “manipulated key interest rates.” Later that year, UBS was fined $1.5 billion for similar charges over LIBOR.
In July 2013, JPMorgan paid $410 million for manipulating energy prices through the Midwest and California. JPMorgan didn’t even need to admit guilt in this claim:
“The bank neither admitted nor denied the violations, but said it would work with outside counsel to review its policies and practices in the power business.”
The Sinaloa Cartel, considered the most powerful drug trafficking cartel in the world, is known for brutal beheadings and murders. For years, they banked through their friendly HSBC branch — transferring hundreds of millions in blood money. For these classic money laundering practices, HSBC was forced to pay up:
“The Department of Justice levied penalties and forfeitures of $1.9 billion on the bank. Of course, with $2.6 trillion in assets, for HSBC this represented a man with a hundred dollars in his pocket paying a fine of seven cents.”
In May 2014, Credit Suisse, was fined $2.6 billion dollars for their involvement in helping Americans evade taxes.
“Credit Suisse bankers aided thousands of wealthy Americans in concealing their money from U.S. authorities, the Department of Justice said. The bank helped American clients set up shell accounts to shuttle their money overseas and then solicited false IRS documents to make the accounts seem legitimate.”
In regards to these fines and penalties, Attorney General Eric Holder was quoted saying, “This …shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law.” Even though Holder suggests that financial institutions aren’t above the law, these penalties rarely phase the companies and personally responsible parties walk freely. It’s setting a frightening example.
On June 30, 2014, BNP Paribas, a French bank, was fined $8.9 billion. The case asserted that BNP helped blacklisted countries like Iran and Sudan bring money to the States. As the New York Times reports, “not one BNP employee was criminally charged.” The company said this would not hurt their core businesses and they had enough to pay the fine. Effectively, a profit speedbump — merely a cost of doing illicit business. Their stock was up after the verdict.
We are failing to properly police some of the worst among us. Most bankers and executives that are closely linked and responsible for these laundering and racketeering charges won’t see the inside of a prison cell. They should. Bankers shouldn’t get a pass when they are guilty of laundering money for blacklisted governments and cartels.
The government is modeling a dangerous example for future bankers and companies. If you’d like to commit wire fraud, launder money, and make millions of untouchable, evaded dollars, enter the financial industry. Instead of jailing these atrocious members of society, the U.S. government is the mafia boss looking for their cut. If you have enough money to pay up, you won’t go to prison. Once the federal government gets their blood money, the banking game of roulette continues.