MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT If you are too big to fail, you don't get prosecuted
A December 11 headline in the The Guardian UK blared, "HSBC's record $1.9bn fine preferable to prosecution, US authorities insist."
According The Guardian:
The bank processed cash for Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, regarded as the most powerful and deadly drug gang in the world, among others. At least $881m in drug trafficking money was laundered throughout HSBC accounts. In order to handle the "staggering amounts of cash", the bank even widened the windows at some branches to allow tellers to accept larger boxes of money.
HSBC also helped rogue states including Libya, Sudan, Burma and Iran to work around US rules banning them from using US financial system in a scheme that went on for decades.
Truthout published a ten-part series this spring on the failed, cynical show war on drugs that the US is sponsoring in Mexico. One of the installments began with a discussion of the profits banks make – blood money. Many of the largest banks appear to willingly welcome drug money with a wink and a nod:
A recent article in The Guardian UK offers evidence that "while cocaine production ravages countries in Central America, consumers in the US and Europe are helping developed economies grow rich from the profits."
According to The Guardian UK story, [a] study by two Colombian professors found that "2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country [Columbia], while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries."
One of the researchers, Alejandro Gaviria said: "We know that authorities in the US and UK know far more than they act upon. The authorities realize things about certain people they think are moving money for the drug trade - but the DEA [US Drug Enforcement Administration] only acts on a fraction of what it knows."
"It's taboo to go after the big banks," added Gaviria's co-researcher Daniel Mejía. "It's political suicide in this economic climate, because the amounts of money recycled are so high."
But there's more in that installment of the Truthout series (which I authored):
According to a 2011 article in AlterNet:
Antonio Maria Costa, former executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in 2008, "there's evidence to suggest that proceeds from drugs and crimes were the only liquid investment capital for banks in trouble of collapsing [during the financial crisis]."
If billions of dollars in drug money rescued banks and other financial institutions from closing down then it's reasonable to argue that the economy itself is addicted to drugs.
As professor Dale Scott noted in his book, American War Machine: Deep Politics; the CIA Global Drug Connection: "A US Senate ... banking committee reportedly estimated that between $500 billion and $1 trillion dollars are laundered each year through banks worldwide, with approximately half of that amount funneled through US Banks."
The HSBC fine may sound large, but it is really just a series in a line of US Department of Justice slaps on the wrists of banks considered too big to fail, even if they are awash in money causing death and are in direct violation of American foreign policy.
Glenn Greenwald, who has written consistently and brilliantly on the double standard of the Department of Justice in not prosecuting members of the DC/NYC/Global Elite (with an emphasis on the financial "Masters of the Universe"), noted that HSBC will hardly suffer financially:
DOJ officials touted the $1.9 billion fine HSBC would pay, the largest ever for such a case. As the Guardian's Nils Pratley noted, "the sum represents about four weeks' earnings given the bank's pre-tax profits of $21.9bn last year." Unsurprisingly, "the steady upward progress of HSBC's share price since the scandal exploded in July was unaffected on Tuesday morning."
The Department of Justice prosecution philosophy of giving a get-out-of-jail free card to members of the corporate and financial elite is not confined to banks. Just recently, it levied a large fine on British Petroleum for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, without bringing criminal charges against any executives or managers, just a couple of lowly oil rig employees. Once again, although the Obama administration touted it as the largest fine yet levied on an oil company, it was merely a small chink in their humongous bottom line.
HSBC represents the tip of the iceberg in illegal money laundering that the US tolerates with fines cobbled together for public relations purposes. Only when you toss executives in jail for financial crimes and crimes against the nation (whose money are they laundering after all? narcos, financiers of terrorism, rogue states, etc.) -- will there be any chance of stopping these practices.
Recently, Truthout posted an article on the strong possibility that intentional homicides in Mexico (most related to the so-called war on drugs, and many committed by Mexican military and police) will rise to more than 120,000 during the just-ended (December 1) six-year reign of ex-Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
As was noted in the Truthout article about why death rates are likely to be much higher in Mexico than officially reported:
That's because there is no uniform standard for determining a drug-related death, there are relatively few investigations into finding out why some were shot, and many - if not the majority - of murdered individuals are innocents caught in the crossfire of a drug culture in which the cartels, the military, the police and the government are all participants. Mexican citizens are often unsure of who is protecting them versus who is killing them, extorting them, raping them, kidnapping them and displacing them. The overlap between the criminals and the protectors is frequently non-existent.
Most of the dead are not narco-traffickers, but Mexican civilians caught in the crossfire of the hyper-violence unleashed by an alleged drug war that ignites killing and crime rather than reducing it.
As a New York Times editorial concludes in a December 12 article on the HSBC fine:
Yet government officials will argue that it is counterproductive to levy punishment so severe that a bank could be destroyed in the process. That may be true as far as it goes. But if banks operating at the center of the global economy cannot be held fully accountable, the solution is to reduce their size by breaking them up and restricting their activities — not shield them and their leaders from prosecution for illegal activities.
Counterproductive to prosecute executives and managers who knowingly are accepting cash that fuels drug wars and enemies of the United States? Yet, we put minorities in jail for possessing cocaine or smoking crack.
Who is doing the greater harm to the nation?
There is something so utterly corrupt about this Department of Justice policy that it undermines the integrity and legitimacy of the United States as a country founded on the rule of law.
Moreover, incalculable numbers of Mexican and South American citizens who have died as a result of US and global bank collaboration with narcos.
When you withdraw money from an HSBC ATM, it should be red in memory of those who have been brutally killed so HSBC can profit.
(Photo: 401(K) 2012)