Yesterday, federal prosecutors in New York announced that the operators of a global online currency exchange, similar to PayPal, ran a $6 billion money-laundering operation, which acted as a central hub for criminals trafficking in everything from child pornography to identity theft.
Over a period of seven years, Liberty Reserve conducted more than 55 million transactions for millions of “customers” around the world, including 200,000 here in the U.S.
On Friday, officials in Spain arrested Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky, who’s among seven people arrested and charged in the case.
All of those charged face counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
So, it looks like those responsible for the biggest online cyber money laundering case in history will be held criminally accountable for their actions.
If only the same thing could be said for money launderers in big banks, like HSBC.
Back in December of last year, Department of Justice and U.S Treasury officials announced that HSBC, the world's largest bank and the second largest bank in the United States had laundered money for some of the most notorious international drug cartels in the world, while also illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in Iran, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and Burma.
Between 2006 and 2009, according to federal officials, HSBC failed to monitor a staggering $670 billion in wire transfers and an additional $9.4 billion in cash transactions from its operations in Mexico.
As a result, according to officials, at least $881 million in drug trafficking money, including money from the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel of Colombia, was laundered through the big bank.
The Department of Justice also said that HSBC helped process $660 million in illegal transactions from Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Burma by intentionally hiding the identities of these countries.
At the initial news conference announcing the bust, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer said that, “HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight. The record of dysfunction that prevailed at HSBC for many years was astonishing.”
But what does “being held accountable” really mean?
Does it mean sending banksters who helped to perpetuate a bloody drug war and laundered billions for drug kingpins to jail?
“Being held accountable” means signing a “deferred prosecution agreement,” or DPA, with the Department of Justice, under which no criminal charges will be brought against the bank – or any of its banksters – provided that it meets certain conditions. Those conditions include paying a $1.9 billion dollar fine.
Despite laundering hundreds of billions of dollars illegally, dealing with some of the world’s most notorious drug cartels, allegedly laundering for terrorist groups and moving money for customers in nations that the U.S. has no diplomatic ties with, HSBC is getting off with a slap on the wrist from the Department of Justice.
Even Republicans find the notion of HSBC getting off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist, despite committing blatantly criminal actions, appalling.
Back when the settlement was first announced, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley hammered the DOJ, saying that it was “inexcusable” that they had not brought criminal prosecutions against the bank.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Grassley said that, “What I have seen from the department is an inexplicable unwillingness to prosecute and convict those responsible for aiding and abetting drug lords and terrorists. I cannot help but agree with an editorial in the New York Times that 'the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail’.”
Fortunately, the HSBC slap-on-the-wrist agreement with the DOJ appears to have stalled.
Judge John Gleeson, who’s overseeing the case, is now believed to be considering rejecting the so-called settlement and deferred prosecution agreement, which could open up HSBC to being criminally prosecuted and losing its charter to do business in the U.S. But if history is any indicator, don't hold your breath.
Regardless of whether or not Judge Gleeson rejects the deal, how is that a big bank that launders billions and billions of dollars for criminals hasn't seen a single perp-walk, but an online company can have its CEO arrested and prosecuted, along with several other executives?
It’s because Liberty Reserve isn’t a real bank, and its employees aren’t real “banksters,” so they can’t hide behind millions in campaign contributions to American politicians.
Since the executives at Liberty Reserve weren’t the anointed elite of the Jamie Dimon’s and Lloyd Blankfein’s of the world, they’ll face the full force of the American justice system.
Right now, we have two criminal justice systems in America: One for the wealthy elite, corporations and big banks; and a second one for everyone else.
Thanks to this double-standard, corporations like Wal-Mart that dump toxic waste get off with a fine, but if an American citizen, an actual person, did the same exact thing, they’d face years in jail.
It’s time to end this double-standard!
Corporations and big banks need to be held accountable for their actions, just like everyone else.
Banksters that launder money for drug cartels and hostile foreign nations need to be facing jail time, and not just a slap on the wrist.
Back in the 1980s, after Ronald Reagan deregulated the S and L’s and they predictably went on a binge of illegal activity and then collapsed, Reagan investigated and prosecuted thousands of banksters, and sent several hundred banksters to jail. The most famous was Charles Keating, who went to jail even though he'd been giving huge payoffs to the infamous “Keating 5” senators, including John McCain.
If Reagan could send politically-connected banksters to jail, President Obama and his administration can do it too!
Time to let some potheads go, and warm up the cells for the banksters.