When are we going to lock up the banksters? Thanks to one of the largest leaks in the history of the banking industry, we now know that big bank HSBC helped hundreds of thousands of wealthy customers from across the globe avoid paying their taxes.
Back in 2007, Herve Falciani, who at the time was a HSBC computer specialist working in that bank's Geneva office, leaked troves and troves of data on HSBC's wealthiest customers and the bank's tax evasion practices.
Now, we are getting are first glimpses into what that data reveals.
The BBC is reporting that it has seen records of at least 106,000 HSBC clients in 203 countries, all of whom were actively dodging taxes in their respective countries by hiding their money in HSBC's Swiss bank.
In total, HSBC's Swiss accounts held some $118 billion.
Meanwhile, The Guardian is reporting that, "The files reveal how HSBC's Swiss private bank colluded with some clients to conceal undeclared 'black' accounts from domestic tax authorities across the world and provided services to international criminals and other high-risk individuals."
The files show how HSBC deliberately advised some of its clients on how to skirt paying taxes and avoid tax authorities.
According to the Guardian's analysis of the leaked data, around 2,900 of HSBC's Swiss clients have connections to the US.
Those clients include famous sports stars, film directors, hedge fund managers, retail giants and prominent political donors.
The IRS reportedly received the leaked data back in 2010, and is in the process of reviewing it, and prosecuting those involved.
Meanwhile, it's unclear whether the Department of Justice will prosecute HSBC over its role in facilitating all of the tax dodging.
But, if recent history suggests anything, I wouldn't hold your breath.
That's because, like every other big bank, HSBC has been repeatedly let off the hook with little more than a slap on the wrist.
You may remember that HSBC found itself in trouble in 2012.
In December of 2012, the Department of Justice and US Treasury officials announced that the giant Swiss bank 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.
That's right, the world's largest bank and second largest bank in the US allegedly laundered money for terrorists and drug kingpins.
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 those countries.
Now, if you or I had done this, we'd be in prison, maybe even Guantánamo. Handling money for drug cartels and terrorists is pretty bad, right?
You would think that HSBC would have faced severe punishment for its actions right?
When it comes to criminal laws, banksters have a different standard than normal human beings. They are, as they love to call themselves, "the masters of the universe."
They're immune from jail.
All HSBC had to do was sign a "deferred prosecution agreement," or DPA, with the Department of Justice, which said that no criminal charges will be brought against the bank - or any of its banksters - provided that it meets certain conditions, including paying a $1.9 billion fine.
Despite laundering hundreds of billions of dollars illegally, helping out some of the world's most notorious killers and drug cartels, allegedly laundering for terrorist groups and moving money for customers in nations that the US has no diplomatic ties with, HSBC got off with a slap on the wrist, and a very light slap at that.
Again, if you or I had laundered money for drug cartels or terrorists, we'd be thrown in jail and the key would be thrown away.
So, if the Department of Justice didn't throw the book at HSBC over laundering money for drug cartels and alleged terrorists, the chances are that when it comes to aiding tax evasion, the punishment isn't going to be too stiff, either.
Speaking about the deal the DOJ cut with HSBC in 2012, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that, "HSBC paid a fine, but no individual went to trial, no individual was banned from banking and there was no hearing to consider shutting down HSBC's activities in the US. How many billions of dollars do you have to launder for drug lords and how many sanctions do you have to violate before someone will consider shutting down a financial institution like this?"
It's time to listen to Senator Warren and stop letting banksters off the hook, because the "slap on the wrist" system we currently have clearly isn't deterring banks from breaking the law just to make a buck.
Masters of the universe? Hah! These guys are just common criminals, and it's time we started treating them as such.Author:The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-EdSource: www.truth-out.org
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