Too Big To Jail: HSBC and Our Two-Tiered Justice System

December 19th, 2012 by Andy in Banks, Banksters & The Financial Crisis

Al Capone had nothing on these guys. Face it, folks. We live in a criminal state. If this kind of thing is allowed to stand, then America is over. All hail our new overclass of the rich and privileged, those too rich, too important to have trivialities like mere “laws” impede their efforts at amassing even more wealth for themselves.

Over the last year, federal investigators found that one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC, spent years committing serious crimes, involving money laundering for terrorists; “facilitat[ing] money laundering by Mexican drug cartels”; and “mov[ing] tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups”. Those investigations uncovered substantial evidence “that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity.” As but one example, “an HSBC executive at one point argued that the bank should continue working with the Saudi Al Rajhi bank, which has supported Al Qaeda.”

Needless to say, these are the kinds of crimes for which ordinary and powerless people are prosecuted and imprisoned with the greatest aggression possible. If you’re Muslim and your conduct gets anywhere near helping a terrorist group, even by accident, you’re going to prison for a long, long time. In fact, powerless, obscure, low-level employees are routinely sentenced to long prison terms for engaging in relatively petty money laundering schemes, unrelated to terrorism, and on a scale that is a tiny fraction of what HSBC and its senior officials are alleged to have done.


That’s not merely a dark day for the rule of law. It’s a wholesale repudiation of it. The US government is expressly saying that banking giants reside outside of - above - the rule of law, that they will not be punished when they get caught red-handed committing criminal offenses for which ordinary people are imprisoned for decades. Aside from the grotesque injustice, the signal it sends is as clear as it is destructive: you are free to commit whatever crimes you want without fear of prosecution. And obviously, if the US government would not prosecute these banks on the ground that they’re too big and important, it would - yet again, or rather still - never let them fail.


Having different “justice systems” for citizens based on their status, wealth, power and prestige is exactly what the US founders argued most strenuously had to be avoided (even as they themselves maintained exactly such a system). But here we have in undeniable clarity not merely proof of exactly how this system functions, but also the rotted and fundamentally corrupt precept on which it’s based: that some actors are simply too important and too powerful to punish criminally. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned in 2010, exempting the largest banks from criminal prosecution has meant that lawlessness and “venality” is now “at a higher level” in the US even than that which prevailed in the pervasively corrupt and lawless privatizing era in Russia.

I believe we’ve crossed a Rubicon here. These criminals have been caught red handed, committing crimes that would put most people away for life. And yet, the authority of the state lets them walk regardless. I’d like to see these banksters get even a quarter of the treatment our government doled out in retribution against Private Manning. The scales of justice are completely broken. Thus, the legitimacy of the state and its authority will inevitably come into necessary question.

There is no law. There is only law enforcement.

If there is no equality under the law, there is no law but power.

And as Maher Arar stated, “Laws that are tailored to protect the powerful from accountability shouldn’t be called laws: they are simply privileges.”

Or “entitlements,” to use the vernacular more familiar to today’s elite political class.

Read the complete article by the always-insightful Glenn Greenwald.

And as Matt Taibbi reported in this scathingly dead on report in Rolling Stone Magazine

This is the disgrace to end all disgraces. It doesn’t even make any sense. There is no reason why the Justice Department couldn’t have snatched up everybody at HSBC involved with the trafficking, prosecuted them criminally, and worked with banking regulators to make sure that the bank survived the transition to new management.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble, they took money to look the other way.


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, ever 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.


The institutional bias in the crack sentencing guidelines was a racist outrage, but this HSBC settlement blows even that away. By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

Read The Full Report

The American state is reaching a point of total illegitimacy. I would think one of the most effective ways of responding to this criminal hypocrisy, would be for every law enforcement official, prosecuting attorney, and judge, to simply no longer enforce drug laws. What can the administration do? They no longer have any legitimacy or standing to challenge it. I would suggest to any cop or lawyer out there now who bothers to pursue drug enforcement, especially of mere peons of every day citizens for the most minor possession, etc… that they think long and hard about how their actions are complicit in aiding the perpetration of this fraudulent exercise of power by our ‘leaders.’

And here’s The Second Great Betrayal: Obama and Cameron Decide that Banks are above the Law, by the always-insightful William Black, who lays out some of the inside scoop as to how and why Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner helped enable and protect all of this criminality. An essential read for anyone trying to decipher how this was allowed to happen.

What we now know definitively is how hyper-sensitive Geithner is to anything that brings to greater public attention his pusillanimous role in ensuring that fraudulent SDIs and the banksters that control them can commit their crimes with impunity from the criminal laws. As always, I emphasize the ultimate culpability for the shameful “too big to prosecute” indulgence granted to the criminal enterprise known as HSBC rests with President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron. It is also worth noting that the Republican Party and Governor Romney never protested this failure to prosecute and that Obama is largely continuing President Bush’s failure to even investigate seriously the banksters. Welcome to crony capitalism.

Read The Full Article

For those who like their news via video, here’s Matt Taibbi discussing some of these developments in a recent appearance on Democracy Now

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