There is a lesson here for all lawbreaking parents who want their kids to follow in their criminal footsteps.
If the youngsters choose a life of crime, steer them to the upscale variety. Money laundering. Wire fraud. Insider trading. When it comes to lite-consequence crime, white-collar is the way to go.
The federal government Tuesday sent that neon-lit message to every aspiring lawbreaker. Not one of the HSBC bank executives who helped drug-cartel chieftains and rogue-state tyrants launder more than a billion dollars of blood money will go to prison.
Is this a great country or what?
Yes, authorities hammered HSBC Bank – whose deep Buffalo roots extend to the old Marine Midland – with $1.92 billion in fines for aiding America’s enemies. But handing Stay Out of Jail cards to the bank’s custom-fitted criminals strikes me as, well, criminal. Business partners do not come much sleazier than Mexican drug lords and Libya’s late, unlamented Moammar Gadhafi, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other global menaces.
This was not money that slipped through cracks in the bank’s protective walls. HSBC executives disabled filters designed to red-flag dirty dollars, and sliced the bank’s staff of anti-money-laundering watchdogs. Dealing dirty dollars was bank policy.
Sticking up a convenience store will get you thrown into the slammer. But partnering in crime with drug lords who leave vats of blood in their wake does not cost you a day of freedom. There ought to be a law.
A Batavia woman last month got five years in prison for punching a Walmart greeter. A Buffalo man just got two years for dealing pot, which is legal in some states. A Buffalo bank robber recently got 15 years for toy-gun holdups. But rise to the heady hierarchy at an international bank, and you can launder hundreds of millions of blood-soaked dollars and never hear the slam of a cell door.
David Bagley, HSBC’s head of group compliance, lost his job. He will not lose his freedom. Nor will anybody else who greedily greenlighted the monumental fraud. Doing business with monsters is apparently not as objectionable when you command a corner office. The Petty Thieves Union should file a complaint.
The Justice Department’s Lanny Breuer defended the nonprosecution. “Our goal is not to bring HSBC down,” Breuer told reporters. “I think it’s a disservice to suggest that anyone’s getting a pass here.”
He should try the “disservice” line on the families of those slaughtered by drug cartels, or who live under the boot heel of HSBC-aided tyrants. The $1.92 billion penalty merely skims the cream off of the bank’s $17 billion profit last year.
Wearing a Brooks Brothers suit while stealing money, instead of droopy jeans and a hoodie, doesn’t just ensure a larger haul. It also pays off on the back end.