Monday, October 11, 2010
Corporate superpowers for crime
by Larry Geller
In comic books, the Supervillians are effectively kept in check by the superheros. By the last page, truth, justice and the American way have predictably prevailed once again. In real life, we are still awaiting our superheros. Electing them doesn’t seem to work. Meanwhile, the villains write the storylines.
In Citizens United, the US Supreme Court effectively gave corporations free speech rights exceeding those of actual humans. Corporations have long had amazing superpowers—for example, impunity from laws that apply to flesh-and-blood people. The jails are not full of bankers who illegally drove homeowners out onto the street by robosigning foreclosure paperwork, and there’s little danger of many doing time for their crime.
That’s nothing new, but I thought it was brought home powerfully in this snip from today’s Democracy Now, in which Amy Goodman interviews British novelist John le Carré:
Money laundering is simply everywhere. On the grand scale, it’s endemic to banking. You have to bear in mind that when Lehman Brothers wasn’t going to function anymore and the big banks weren’t lending to one another, back at that terrible time, $352 billion of illegal money were then tacitly released upon the market, and that was about the only money people were lending to one another. So, money laundering is not some distant fantasy. It’s actually how you handle the profits of extortion, tax evasion, criminal conspiracy and huge quantities of drug money, how you get that into the white sector. And what we are gradually learning from these little exposés that come to light is that there is almost no way of denying people, in the end, the profits of their crime, which is a tragedy. And it’s also a frightful annoyance, because we pay vast sums of money across the way here to agencies that are supposed to stop money laundering. It doesn’t happen.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you’ve got a column right there, bringing this right up—
JOHN LE CARRÉ: I have a column, yeah. I wish I had the figures in my head. This is from the International Herald Tribune, and I guess that means it also comes from the New York Times of Monday, September the 13th, not so long ago. Barclays, a British bank, paid $298 million "for conducting transactions with Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan in violation of United [States] trade sanctions. Barclays was discovered to have systematically disguised the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars through wire transfers that were stripped of the critical information required by law. [...]
"Last May, when ABN Amro Bank (now largely part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) was caught funneling money for the benefit of Iran, Libya and Sudan, it was fined $500 million, and no one went to jail. Last December, Credit Suisse Group agreed to pay a $536 million fine for doing the same. In recent years, Union Bank of California, American Express Bank International, BankAtlantic and Wachovia have all been caught moving huge sums of drug money, but no one went to jail. The banks just admitted to criminal conduct and paid the government a cut of their profits."
The thing is, it is very undemocratic, because if you or I go to one of these banks along here somewhere with a few thousand dollars in a briefcase, if I’m a Brit and do it, I have to give a really thorough explanation. Bank manager may call in the police. I have to produce my passport. If I want to open an account, I have to produce a utilities bill and all of that. But, if Mr. Orloff comes to a bank here and says, "I am from Russia. I have millions and millions of dollars, please. And here is a letter from a reputable lawyer in Moscow. And here is evidence that I run hotels, casinos, whatnot," bank manager says, "What are you doing for lunch?" And we’re away. So, the bigger the sum, the easier the crime. Now, that is of course something that afflicts us through life. But it’s the case here.
Check out today’s program. 10 p.m. on channel 56 on Oahu, or any time from democracynow.org.