HSBC Travesty Crosses Partisan Lines

HSBCThe choice of the Justice Department to not prosecute HSBC for their criminal money laundering is the kind of thing that should cross all political lines. And indeed, we are seeing a bit of it. Marcy Wheeler at Empty Wheel has reported, Democratic and Republican Agreement: Prosecute HSBC. Chuck Grassley and Jeff Merkley have both written letters of complaint to Attorney General Eric Holder.

The sad fact is that this is probably as much push back as we are likely to see. The saying goes, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” It is the one thing that all politicians are in agreement on. And the Democrats traditionally have been as beholden to the financial industry as the Republicans. (Interestingly, however, not this cycle.) The truth is that I don’t see any risk in complaining about this travesty. Many people in the industry were shocked at this decision. But in general, even the most minor criticisms about these Masters of the Universe can bring on an over-sized reaction. Remember the reaction to Obama’s “fat cats” comment?

Merkley is rather circumspect, but he is clear:

I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution.

Grassley is much more aggressive, although I wonder what he would have to say (if anything) if we had a Republican administration:

Even more concerning is the fact that the individuals responsible for these failures are not being held accountable. The Department has not prosecuted a single employee of HSBC—no executives, no directors, no AML compliance staff members, no one. By allowing these individuals to walk away without any real punishment, the Department is declaring that crime actually does pay. Functionally, HSBC has quite literally purchased a get-out-of-jail-free card for its employees for the price of $1.92 billion dollars.

This morning I was thinking about Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. If he had not killed himself, there would be no question but that we would prosecute him. The men at HSBC are culpable in thousands of murders. But they’re rich! They wear business suits! And most important of all: they’re just like the people who head the Justice Department. So they can’t be prosecuted. In America, rich don’t only get away with murder, they have to get away with murder.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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