Stuart Gulliver, group chief executive at HSBC Bank, said the bank made “mistakes” when it knowingly and purposely laundered money for drug cartels and rogue states.
But it’s not a “mistake” when a giant and powerful multinational corporation sets about to commit crimes that aid and abet other criminals in acts that break fundamental laws and produce widespread suffering.
Willfulness is not a mistake. What HSBC did was to commit crimes of terrible consequence in a way meant to deceive U.S. authorities who watch for money laundering operations.
In that regard, state and federal officials let HSBC off the hook by allowing the corporation to pay a $1.92 billion settlement rather than face criminal charges. Unless the government is planning to cure cancer with that money – a record-high settlement – it would have been more satisfying – and just – to see bank officials in the dock and later in prison stripes.
What else is appropriate for a gang that:
• Laundered $881 million in drug money for the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia.
• Laundered $660 million for nations, including Iran, Libya, Cuba, Burma and Sudan, in violation of U.S. sanctions against the countries.
• Issued formal instructions such as “do not mention our name in NY,” or “do not mention Iran” on transactions involving those countries. Those transactions went into a “repair queue” – George Orwell would have loved that – where European employees sanitized them, removing all references to the sanctioned countries before they were forwarded to HSBC Bank USA.
Iran holds political prisoners and is seeking to destabilize the entire world through development of nuclear weapons. Libya, until last year, was a criminal nation led by Moammar Gadhafi, a despot with the blood of Americans on his hands.
As to the drug cartels, they traffic in addiction, violence and murder. Their purpose is to make as much money as they can by feeding the cravings of millions, and they are willing to take any and all steps to protect their criminal enterprises. HSBC decided to help them out and to make some more money while they were at it.
Examples of corporate greed have been about as common as snakes in a rainforest over the past four years, but none rivals the despicable actions of HSBC.
The consequences of those actions may be less obvious than those that helped to ruin million of Americans in the Great Recession, but they are just as vile and far more insidious.
The $1.92 billion that HSBC will pay to avoid money-laundering charges is three times as large as the previous record penalty, agreed to last June by Netherlands’ ING Groep NV. But it doesn’t come close to atoning for what this bank did, whatever Gulliver thinks.