If you are looking for a lucrative banking career, you might just have to check your moral values at the door. The recent HSBC settlement of $1.9 billion over money laundering charges is just one instance in a series of white collar crimes that are being perpetrated in the financial sector.
HSBC has acknowledged that it “failed to maintain an effective program against money laundering,” but this statement does not convey the magnitude of its crimes. Over the past decade, two major drug cartels, Sinaloa and Norte de Valle, have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars.
The settlement agreement is a shameful bargain on the part of the Department of Justice. It lauded the fine as a record-high penalty, but according to many analysts, it is only represents the profits of a five-to-eight week period.
For a bank that has admitted to laundering money for murderers and drug traffickers over a number of years, HSBC is getting off far too lightly. Keep in mind, this settlement came after two previous warnings from U.S. regulators.
According to Reuters, HSBC was given “directives” to improve oversight and monitoring of suspicious transactions once in 2003 and later in 2010.
The outrage over this case seems to have passed as quickly as the settlement was reached. Maybe there have been too many banking scandals, or maybe people have come to expect nothing more than outright criminal activity from financial institutions.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone believes that the U.S Justice Department is just as guilty as HSBC — it took money to look the other way just as the bank did. Though Taibbi may have exaggerated, the implications of his argument still hold true. Is it just for the government to jail drug users when it lets the bankers who aid drug traffickers off with a fine?
Why are we not throwing these executives in jail? They profited from the exploitation and devastation wrought by criminal organizations, and yet they are still free to do their business as usual. Not only were they warned previously of their lax internal controls, but they lied to regulators about even having compliance officials working in their offices. These two strikes are often more than any drug user is going to get before being locked up.
I don't know what worries me more, that our venerable financial institutions are aiding some of the most violent criminals in the world, or that our government seems to think that these crimes do not merit more serious prosecution than a paltry fine.
The precedent this case is setting is quite disturbing; some people are too big to prosecute fully and others are subject to the full force of the law, no matter the scale of their crime.