The other day I watched a documentary I highly recommend. A warning however: it might get you (righteously) angry. It was episode 4 of the Netflix show, Dirty Money.
The episode recounts how global banking giant HSBC (US division) was grossly negligent in applying laws to prevent money laundering. In fact, they purposely manipulated systems to avoid the controls. This was almost certainly with the knowledge and implicit approval of headquarters (London). This allowed criminals like Mexican cartels and ISIS to move money around the world.
The bank admitted to this fact, pleading guilty.
Any reasonable person, when confronted with the evidence would expect stiff penalties. If it were me, and seeing they had systematically and intentionally flaunted the law, I would have metaphorically burned HSBC to the ground. I would revoke their business licenses within the US, I would jail anyone whom knew of it and remained silent. I would have seized funds and assets, so neither the organization nor individuals profited.
US Attorney Lynch said,
“…HSBC’s willful flouting of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in OFAC-prohibited transactions. Today’s historic agreement, which imposes the largest penalty in any BSA prosecution to date, makes it clear that all corporate citizens, no matter how large, must be held accountable for their actions.” (source)
There was some talk of HSBC being “too big to fail”. I would do what justice demands. Yes, it may have put thousands out of work – and yes, many of them might be completely innocent of all wrong doing. But it would also have sent a message: obey the law or the consequences will be dire. I’d be willing to bet that criminals would have found banks a lot less malleable the next day, had that occurred.
Those complicit within HSBC betrayed the world. They demonstrated gross indifference toward the law, and perpetuated the suffering of victims of the cartels and terrorism. What is more startling is the failure of the Justice system to hold them to account. HSBC was fined the equivalent of a mere five weeks profit, and management forfeited a portion of their bonuses. No one lost their job, no one went to jail. In December 2017 the US Department Of Justice announced it would dismiss all criminal charges against HSBC.
A key aspect of a healthy civilization is a justice system which doesn’t see the perpetrator – the rich should be punished equally to the poor. In this instance the Justice system, and those charged to administer it, appeared to fail. I hope there’s a good reason we just aren’t privy too, because otherwise it is… lacking in transparency and justice.
I believe in a free market, but maybe if organisations are becoming “too big to fail” then we should start looking at ways to prevent them from growing further, at the very least. The bigger an organisation is the more oversight they should have… after all – we don’t want the economy to fail – but we also don’t want to make them unaccountable either.
It may be that those responsible will never appropriately be held to account on this earth, but I believe they’ll one-day face a Judge to whom they’ll answer. And if they aren’t repentant beforehand the punishment will be eternal.