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Too Big To Jail

By Yashwanth Manjunath

Back in July it was revealed that HSBC bank, one of the largest banks in the world, was involved in laundering money on behalf of the Mexican drug cartels, and other international terrorist organizations to the tune of billions of dollars, including groups connected to al-Qaeda. Well this past week the Justice Department has announced that they will not be pursuing criminal charges against any of the top executives who work there. Instead, the bank will pay a $1.9 billion fine. To put that in context, just last year HSBC made $21.9 billion in after-tax profits. As for the executives, their “punishment” is that they will have to defer part of their bonuses over a 5-year period. Meanwhile, this woman (and thousands of people like her) was sentenced to life in prison without parole 15 years ago for being a “money holder” for her cocaine dealing boyfriend.

When Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division at the DOJ, was asked why HSBC was not being taken to court, his response was that that they need to consider the “collateral consequences”:

If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?

What Breuer is basically saying is that HSBC is too big to jail. They can work with some of our most dangerous enemies, help them finance the mass murder of thousands of innocent people and, because of how the markets will react, they will not be prosecuted for their crimes. He’s right about “collateral consequences,” but one he seems to be missing is the message this sends to JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, and other banks of similar size to HSBC about the consequences, or lack-thereof, for engaging in criminal activity. Or maybe he isn’t missing it?

In case you were wondering, before Lanny Breuer started his current job at the DOJ he used to work at Covington and Burling as co-chair of their White Collar defense group where he helped shield banksters from justice as one of the top litigators in the country.

But at the end of the day, it isn’t about Lanny Breuer. It’s about the system that allowed him to be appointed to one of the most important prosecutorial positions in the country, when all he knows how to do is protect the very criminals he’s supposed to be going after. A system with one set of rules for bankers and another for the rest of us, that never changes no matter who wins the elections.

And people still wonder why we have an Occupy Wall Street movement?