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WaPo | ‘Too big to fail’ becomes ‘too big to indict’

At first glance, the British bank HSBC’s agreement to pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe seems like very good news. It is the largest penalty ever imposed on a bank; the U.S. government accused HSBC of transferring funds “through the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels and on behalf of nations such as Iran that are under international sanctions.” Furthermore, the settlement is a “deferred-prosecution agreement,” which means that U.S. authorities can resume the case if HSBC does not strengthen internal oversight and avoid similar violations for the next five years. (Most settlements between big Wall Street firms and the U.S. government remove the threat of charges for the violations; the firms then make the same violations again a few years later.)

Despite the impressive fine, the settlement still leaves much to worry about as regards Wall Street’s disproportionate power over the government. To begin with, while smaller companies’ executives are (justly) heading to prison for money-laundering for the brutal cartels, no HSBC executives have been arrested. Worse, though, is that “too big to fail” seems to have become “too big to indict.”


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