Monday, 28 January 2013

Too Big to Fail, Too Rich to Jail: HSBC, Reddit's Aaron Swartz and the Rule of Law

It was called a “dark day for the rule of law” by the New York Times when the Department of Justice (DOJ) decided not to pursue criminal charges against banking giant HSBC for helping terrorist groups, foreign governments and Mexican drug cartels launder money. That day became even darker, if only by contrast, with the recent news of Aaron Swartz's suicide.
HSBC’s only punishment for these transgressions was a $1.92 billion settlement to the U.S. government, with more payments expected as other federal investigations are settled.

When pressed as to why HSBC would not face any criminal charges, the DOJ responded that HSBC had effectively threatened capital flight. “[T]the consequences of a criminal prosecution would have been dire,” explained assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer during a DOJ press conference

Greenwald also points out that $2 billion amounts to about four weeks of earnings for the banking giant — a speeding ticket to the great unwashed masses.

Contrast HSBC’s “punishment” with that of Swartz. What kind of message does it send when a man whose only crime was planning to release scholarly research to the public for free is treated as more of a criminal than a multinational corporation that helped drug traffickers, terrorists and despots finance their nefarious activities?

The yawning gap between Swartz’s punishment and HSBC’s lack thereof represents yet another cynical reminder that the wealthy and powerful play by their own rules.

The system is obviously hijacked. The banksters need to face criminal charges as do those aiding an abetting their crimes.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, January 28th, 2013.]

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