Nick Shaxson ■ How to deal with the likes of HSBC


hsbc-logo-square-300x225We’re going to quote from an article in 2012 by Matt Taibbi, in Rolling Stone magazine, which was examining the latest HSBC mega-scandal of the time.

He was outraged, as we all should be, at the lightness of the sentencing in a case that had involved shifting money for the massacre-happy Mexican Sinaloa cartel, for groups linked to Al Qaeda; for Russian gangsters; and also the provision of help to countries like Iran, Sudan and North Korea to evade sanctions.

HSBC got away with a fine equivalent to five weeks’ profits, and HSBC itself agreed to “partially defer” bonus compensation for its most senior officials. It was sickening then. If you want to be sickened now, then read this.

Here is Taibbi’s recipe for how the action should have gone:

“So you might ask, what’s the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC’s position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we’re talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you’re the prosecutor, you’ve got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they’ve ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby’s auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don’t think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn’t it? The only problem is, that’s exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.”

And, as a reminder, the senior executives ended up getting their bonuses “partially deferred.”

The latest HSBC mega-scandal isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s still godawful.

The good news, of course, is that our authorities ought to have learned their lessons, and are going to crack down properly at last on the latest bout of criminal activity.

Have they? Well, let’s take a look at the score so far.




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