The past 12th December, Reuters, AP and EFE reported that ‘HSBC, the bank of highest market value in Europe, agreed yesterday to pay a record fine of 1.9 billion dollars to the United States government in order to end the accusations made to its authorities of money laundering in benefit of drug dealers, among them, Mexican cartels and Iranian extremist groups’. A report from the American Senate had denounced that HSBC and its subsidiaries had performed secret transactions with Iran for 16 billion dollars same as for 7 billion that were presumed to belong to Mexican cartels. Those news agencies highlighted that experts in legal matters considered that the agreement was actually quite benevolent. Jimmy Gurule, former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, called it a joke since there will not be judicial processing for any of the executives that were involved in the operation. In his words: ‘the message sent by the Department of Justice is that if you are going to get involved in a great scale operation of money laundering with the Mexican cartels, you must make sure you do it within the scope of your position in a bank, because you will not be prosecuted, regardless the indignant nature of your criminal behavior’.
The chronicle finishes by pointing out (i) that the applied sanction equals 9% of the 2012 company’s profit and (ii) that the London Stock Exchange was yesterday pleased with the agreement: the price of the HSBC’s stocks went up by 0.3%.
15th December (three days after HSBC London had ‘agreed’ to pay the fine), HSBC Argentina, which mentions its operations are independent from other companies of the HSBC Group [[We do not know whether other HSBC subsidiaries issued similar advertising in other countries where the HSBC Group is present.]] , publishes a full spread ad at the beginning of the central body in the Sunday issue of La Nación newspaper. It displayed an enormous photograph of happy young people jumping into the water from a riverboat and a big lettered headline that said ‘Enjoy a summer without frontiers’ and then ‘We look forward to seeing you at our HSBC Premier rest areas in Punta del Este and Cariló [[High tourism beaches in Uruguay and Argentina.]] with the best benefits and, in addition, get 20% off in the main restaurants with your HSBC Premier Credit Cards’.
So far the information, now some issues to consider.
(i) One of the largest financial entities in the world is caught committing a money laundering crime and it manages to get immunity for those responsible in exchange for a fine that represents 9% of 2012’s profit. If any other person would commit the same crime of laundering money that came from drug trafficking and extremist groups, will he also be able to evade all judicial responsibility by paying 9% of what he earned in a year and promising to never do it again? Is there a double-sided justice, one for everyone and a different one to guard the privilege of the affluent?
(ii) Can a laughable fine stop those who commit crimes and that, of course, only pay if they are caught? Financial impunity is added to judicial impunity.
(iii) It is clear that HSBC is not the only financial entity that committed these kinds of crimes. There are a large number of other financial entities that were caught in criminal acts and that keep operating in the markets [[Some of them have been listed in the article [They have stolen even spring from us->http://opinionsur.org.ar/They-have-stolen-even-spring-from?lang=en], Opinión Sur, September 2012 (poner link)]]. They are investigated, felonies are identified, they are prosecuted and receive a sentence, then keep on functioning.
(iv) This behavioral pattern marked by greed and criminal action, will it not be repeated every time another opportunity rises to profit outside the law and regulations? What guarantees that, in the aggressive and competitive scenario of international finances, financial crime would not be the norm to reach the high return rates capital owners demand and for operators to get their ‘success’ bonuses? What ties link financial capital to justice, criminal organizations and regulators in charge of supervising transactions that are extremely hard for them to identify?
(v) Tax havens play a critical role in enabling and sheltering large financial crimes. Those havens, ill named tax heavens, are mostly located under the jurisdiction of England and the United States. How is it that the public opinion of those countries tolerates and forgives their existence? It is possible for a large share of it not to know the tremendous effects that come from the existence of tax havens but another significant part establishes relations of complicity with them.
(vi) It is amazing, but not surprising, the amount of resources those who commit financial crimes dedicate to advertising campaigns designed to deviate attention from the crimes committed.
(vii) Without any shame whatsoever, its managers keep getting their bonuses or going into retirement with extremely generous compensation packages; overall they do not receive a significant social punishment due to the complicity of the media and their ability to anesthetize the reaction of public opinion.
(viii) The complicity of the media is expressed in a poor coverage of the felonies committed, generally presented in economic sections and without much follow-up over time, while the operations to cover up the eventual institutional damage are placed as a full spread advertisement (paid, obviously) in the main body of the media that almost all readers read.
(ix) Regarding the victims of criminal operations, nothing is said. It is not made explicit the link between the committed financial crime and its consequences in thousands of deaths, human and drug trafficking, arms dealing with delinquents, dismembered families, aggravated corruption. They ignore the victims as if they did not exist and were just a collateral result, necessary to obtain exorbitant profits and the consequent bonuses for the greedy executives. Those who commit serious financial crimes do not consider and are not concerned by the lives that are cut off, the pain and suffering inflicted to thousands of people.
(x) Neither do those victims matter to legal and accounting advisors who assist financial entities so that they can ‘successfully’ materialize financial crime and, if they get caught, work to provide them impunity using their legal knowledge and their capacity to darken accountings to hide all the facts they can.
(xi) What an example for young people and the rest of society that works long hours in order to earn a modest living! Why would they keep doing so when white collar gentlemen steal extraordinary amounts with impunity and, instead of being punished, they show off a conspicuous consumption and keep getting social bows?
(xii) How outrageous then becomes the final note from the agencies reporting the monetary agreement reached with the United States’ Justice: ‘The London Stock Exchange was yesterday pleased by the agreement: the price of HSBC stocks went up by 0.3%’. The word ‘pleased’ resounds as a slap in the face of people’s dignity and the stock gains evidence the moral fiber of those that invest unscrupulously in a corporation that has committed serious financial crimes.