Thinking of robbing a bank? Bad idea. You're more likely to get away with a crime working from the inside.
That's Matt Taibbi's take anyway.
In an interview Thursday, The Rolling Stone editor and master of populist outrage takes aim at the government's record-setting settlement with HSBC announced this week. HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle allegations it didn’t do enough to stop money laundering for Mexican drug cartels and other criminal organizations. A record-setting penalty for a bank crime, the money amounts to little in the way of punishment for HSBC, as HuffPost's Mark Gongloff pointed out on Monday. Taibbi also notes that the money amounts to about two months worth of profits.
“What HSBC has now admitted to is more or less the worst behavior that any bank can possibly be guilty of,” the Rolling Stone editor said on Democracy Now. “For the crimes they committed, getting away with just money -- and it’s not even their money, it’s the shareholders money -- it literally is a get out of jail free card,” he said later.
As part of the settlement, HSBC entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department -- a deal that allows the bank to avoid criminal prosecution by paying fines and agreeing to change its behavior. As part of the agreement, the bank admitted it didn’t do enough to stop money laundering. In addition, HSBC agreed to try and fix the problem.
“We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again,” HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said when the agreement was announced, according to Reuters. “The HSBC of today is a fundamentally different organization from the one that made those mistakes”
Taibbi and others including ex-bailout watchdog Neil Barofsy and The New York Times argue that HSBC’s relatively painless punishment is indicative of a larger pattern of the way government officials treat Wall Street crimes: Major banks and executives manage to escape any criminal punishment for wreaking financial havoc.
Standard Chartered recently agreed to pay $327 million over claims it violated Middle East sanctions and Barclay’s paid $450 million in June to settle claims of Libor manipulation. The only arrests made in that major scandal so far are likely low-level employees.
And, as we have pointed out countless times, there has yet to be any criminal prosecutions of the most senior-level executives involved in the financial crisis.