HSBC (formerly Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) is the UK’s largest and the world’s second largest bank. They’ve come under fire recently for laundering billions of dollars for drug dealers and terrorists through their American subsidiaries. But despite the bank’s admittance that they did allow such activities to occur, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lenny Breuer has chosen not to prosecute the bank’s officials on criminal charges. He has instead agreed to be paid off by the bank to the tune of $1.9 billion, which government officials are lauding as a “record” settlement amount, but which only amounts to about 5 weeks’ worth of income for the bank. The New York Times summed up some of the bank’s illegal activities:
“…HSBC’s activities are said to have gone beyond claims that the bank flouted United States sanctions to transfer money on behalf of nations like Iran. Prosecutors also found that the bank had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups… The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a subsequent hearing at which the bank’s compliance chief resigned amid mounting concerns that senior bank officials were complicit in the illegal activity. For 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, according to the Congressional report.”
So what’s the reason this bank is essentially getting away with crimes that would have put any ordinary individual in prison for life after having all his assets including his house, car, money and property seized under asset forfeiture laws? U.S. officials say that they didn’t want to press criminal charges against them because doing so might threaten the stability of the global financial system. In effect, they’re too big to prosecute.
While the Obama administration is calling this “justice,” the only message I get is that if you’re big enough, then you can get away with murder as long as the money’s right. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone summed it up well:
“[I]f 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…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.”
The war on drugs has been an abysmal failure even from the perspective of those who support it for moral reasons. But from the perspective of those who control it, it has been a resounding success. Without the war on drugs, the U.S. wouldn’t have such a booming prison industry that houses non-violent drug possessors, and our government wouldn’t be making billions in settlements from the massively wealthy criminals at the top who are simply “too big to jail.”