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Bank Crimes Pay: Under the Thumb of the Global Financial Mafiocracy
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
27 November 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
On Nov. 13, the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it was charging 10 individual bankers, working for two separate banks, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, with fraud over their rigging of the Euribor rates. The latest announcement shines the spotlight once again on the scandals and criminal behavior that have come to define the world of global banking.
To date, only a handful of the world’s largest banks have been repeatedly investigated, charged, fined or settled in relation to a succession of large financial scams, starting with mortgage fraud and the Libor scandal in 2012, the Euribor scandal and the Forex (foreign exchange) rate rigging. At the heart of these scandals, which involve the manipulation of interest rates on trillions of dollars in transactions, lie a handful of banks that collectively form a cartel in control of global financial markets – and the source of worldwide economic and financial crises.
Banks such as HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS anchor the global financial power we have come to recognize as fraud. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive. In more explicit terms, this cartel of banks functions as a type of global financial Mafia, manipulating markets and defrauding investors, consumers and countries while demanding their pound of flesh in the form of interest payments. The banks force nations to impose austerity measures and structural reforms under the threat of cutting off funding; meanwhile they launder drug money for other cartels and organized crime syndicates.
Call them the global Mafiocracy.
In May, six major global banks were fined nearly $6 billion for manipulation of the foreign exchange market, which handles over $5 trillion in daily transactions. Four of the six banks pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged.” Those banks were Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, while two additional banks, UBS and Bank of America, were fined but did not plead guilty to the specific charges. Forex traders at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other banks conspired to manipulate currency prices through chat room groups they established, where they arrogantly used names like “The Mafia” and “The Cartel.”
The FBI said the investigations and charges against the big banks revealed criminal behavior “on a massive scale.” The British bank Barclays paid the largest individual fine at around $2.3 billion. But as one trader at the bank wrote in a chat room conversation back in 2010, “If you aint cheating, you aint trying.” The total fines, while numerically large, were but a small fraction of the overall market capitalization of each bank – though the fine on Barclays amounted to some 3.4% of the bank’s market capitalization, the highest percentage by far among the group.
Despite the criminal conspiracy charges covering the years 2007 through 2013, the banks and their top officials continue to lay the blame squarely at the feet of individual traders. Axel Weber, the former president of the German Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), who is now chairman of Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, commented that “the conduct of a small number of employees was unacceptable and we have taken appropriate disciplinary actions.”
Looking at the larger scale of bank fines and fraud in the roughly eight years since the global financial crisis, the numbers increase substantially. In addition to a 2012 settlement for mortgage-related fraud in the U.S. housing market, which amounted to some $25 billion, several large banks paid individual fines related to mortgage and foreclosure fraud – including a $16 billion fine for Bank of America, and $13 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Added to these are fines related to the rigging of the Libor rate (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other) and the Forex rigging, as well as money laundering, violating sanctions, manipulating the price of gold, manipulating the U.S. electricity market and assisting tax evasion, among other crimes.
According to a research paper published in June, the total cost of litigation (fines, penalties, settlements, etc.) paid by 16 major global banks since 2010 has reached more than $300 billion. Bank of America paid the most, amounting to more than $66 billion, followed by JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds, Citigroup, Barclays, RBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Santander, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, UBS, National Australia Bank, Standard Chartered and Société Générale.
Virtually all of these banks also appear on a list of data, compiled through 2007, revealing them to be among the most interconnected and powerful financial institutions in the world. This core group of corporations forms part of a network of 147 financial institutions that Swiss scientists refer to as the “super-entity,” which, through their various shareholdings, collectively controland own each other and roughly 40% of the world’s 43,000 largest transnational corporations.
In other words, the big banks – along with large insurance companies and asset management firms – do not simply act as a cartel in terms of engaging in criminal activities, but they form a functionally interdependent network of global financial and corporate control. Further, the banks work together in various industry associations and lobbying groups where they officially represent their collective interests.
The largest European banks and financial institutions are represented by the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), whose membership consists of the CEOs or Chairmen of roughly 25 of the top financial institutions on the continent, including Deutsche Bank, AXA, HSBC, Allianz, RBS, ING, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS, and Credit Suisse, among others.
In the United States, the Financial Services Forum (FSF) represents the largest American along with some European banks and financial institutions. The Forum’s membership consists of less than 20 executives, including the CEOs or Chairmen of such firms as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, AIG, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street Corporation, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, among others.
And on a truly global scale, there is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the premier global association representing the financial industry, with a membership of nearly 500 different institutions from more than 70 countries around the world, including banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, credit ratings agencies, hedge funds and development banks.
In addition to these various groups and associations, many of the same large banks and their top executives also serve as members, leaders or participants in much more secretive groups and forums – for example, the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a yearly meeting of hundreds of the world’s top bankers hosted by the American Bankers Association, which invites selected politicians, central bankers and finance ministers to attend their off-the-record discussions. In addition, there is the Institut International d’Etudes Bancaires (International Institute of Banking Studies), or IIEB, which brings together the top officials from dozens of Europe’s major financial institutions for discussions with central bankers, presidents and prime ministers in “closed sessions” with virtually no coverage in the media.
These financial institutions are major owners of government debt, which gives them even greater leverage over the policies and priorities of governments. Exercising this power, they typically demand the same thing: austerity measures and “structural reforms” designed to advance a neoliberal market economy that ultimately benefits those same banks and corporations. The banks in turn create the very crises that require governments to bail them out, racking up large debts that banks turn into further crises, pressuring economic reforms in return for further loans. The cycle of crisis and control continues, and all the while, the big banks and financial institutions engage in criminal conspiracies, fraud, manipulation and money-laundering on a massive scale, including acting as the financial services arm of the world’s largest drug cartels and terrorists organizations.
Welcome to the world governed by the global financial Mafiocracy – because if you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.
A Year in the World-Traveling Life of U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
15 October 2015
Jacob Joseph (“Jack”) Lew is one of the two most powerful financial diplomats in the world, the other being his central banking counterpart, Janet Yellen, the Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. As the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Lew has been the most important economic official inside the Obama administration since his confirmation in February 2013 following the president’s re-election.
Prior to serving as Treasury Secretary, Lew was White House Chief of Staff to President Obama from 2012 to 2013, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2010 to 2012, a position he also held in the Clinton administration from 1998 until 2011. Lew was also Deputy Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2010. But from 2006 to 2008, he worked at Citigroup, overseeing the bank’s $1.8 billion in wealth management assets, and was then appointed as one of Citi’s senior executives.
Lew’s appointment to Citigroup was made on the recommendation of the bank’s then-Chairman Robert Rubin, the former Treasury Secretary from the Clinton administration (1995-1999), with whom Lew worked closely. When Lew left the bank to join the Obama administration immediately following the 2008 financial crisis and the billions in bailouts his bank received, Lew got a bonus of almost $1 million from Citigroup on top of his more than $2 million in regular earnings from the bank.
Tracking Lew’s Movements
In examining the role played by the Treasury Secretary to shape U.S. and global economy policy, it’s revealing to look at his schedule over the course of a year. After reviewing Secretary Lew’s schedule of phone calls and meetings in 2014, it’s easier to understand what it means to be one of the world’s most powerful financial diplomats. More than any other high-level official, Lew was in consistent contact with Yellen, having held over 30 phone calls or meetings with the Federal Reserve Chairperson over the course of the year, which included regular lunch or breakfast meetings.
As the two top diplomats and managers of the American economy and the U.S. dollar, it makes sense for these two individuals to meet frequently, both to assess the economic outlook and to devise a common U.S. position at international meetings – like the bi-annual meetings of the IMF steering committee known as the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), as well as the secretive meetings of finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of Seven (G7) and Group of Twenty (G20) nations.
Officially founded in 1976, the G7 sits at the center of global economic governance, meeting at the head of state level once a year, and holding multiple meetings and conference calls among the finance ministers and central bank governors of nations that comprise its membership: the U.S., Germany, Japan, France, UK, Italy and Canada. The G20, on the other hand, was founded as a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in 1999, and only started meeting at the head of state level in late 2008 in the midst of the global financial crisis.
Jack Lew was in frequent contact with his G7 peers, including all of the finance ministers and most of the central bankers. In addition to the gatherings of the G7 and G20, Lew spoke or met with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble roughly 20 times throughout 2014. In the same period he met or spoke with the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, roughly 16 times; with European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi some 15 times; and with Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso 14 times.
Secretary Lew also had extensive contact with French Finance Minister Michel Sapin and his predecessor Pierre Moscovici, who became European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs; Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan; Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver; and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an institution that brings together central bankers, finance ministers and regulators to oversee the global management of financial markets. Lew spoke or met with Carney some 12 times throughout the year.
But apart from Yellen, the high-level official with whom Lew had the most contact was Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF and a former French Finance Minister; Lew met or spoke to Lagarde roughly 23 times in 2014, including at the meetings of the G7 and G20, which the IMF Managing Director typically attends.
The G20 has a much wider membership than the G7, though it includes all of the G7 nations in addition to Australia, the European Union, and major emerging market economies such as China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Indonesia and South Korea. The heads of major international organizations like the IMF, World Bank, Bank for International Settlements (BIS), World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also typically attend the meetings of the G7 and G20.
Following Yellen, Lagarde and Schauble, Secretary Lew was most frequently in contact with Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, with whom he met or spoke roughly 17 times throughout the year. While Australia is not even a member of the G7, it would typically seem odd to have such extensive communication between its Treasurer and the U.S. Treasury Secretary. But Australia was hosting the G20 meetings in 2014, and thus Hockey closely coordinated with Lew on meetings that involved financial officials convening four times during the year.
Another name that stands out is Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Singaporean Finance Minister who held nine separate calls and meetings with Lew, and 13 including those of the G20. Shanmugaratnam became Finance Minister of Singapore, a wealthy Asian city-state, in 2007, and has also held the dual role as head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s central bank. In addition, Tharman serves on the board of directors of Singapore’s large sovereign wealth fund, GIC, which manages between $100 and $350 billion in assets, including significant stakes in Citigroup and UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank.
The likely reason why Lew had such frequent contact with Shanmugaratnam – the chief financial diplomat of a country that is neither a member of the G7 nor the G20 – is because in March of 2011, Shanmugaratnam was appointed Chairman of the IMF’s steering group, the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), made up of finance ministers and central bank governors from the nations represented on the Fund’s Executive Board.
Lew attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January of 2014, where he held private bilateral meetings with Mark Carney of the Bank of England (and FSB), Saudi finance minister and central bank governor Ibrahim Al-Assaf, ECB President Mario Draghi, and Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, who was another emerging market diplomat with whom Lew had frequent contact throughout the year (eight separate phone calls and meetings, or 12 including those at the G20).
In February, Lew traveled to Australia for the first G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors under the chairmanship of Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey. Lew moderated a session of a conference hosted by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and held private meetings with German Finance Minister Schauble, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and top financial diplomat Ali Babacan, and Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso. And just before the official G20 meetings began, the G7 countries got together for a quiet one-hour meeting as well.
As the Spring Meetings of the IMF were starting in April, Jack Lew held private meetings with Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Videgaray of Mexico, Draghi of the ECB, Saudi Finance Minister Al-Assaf, and Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Once again, Lew attended a private one-hour gathering of the G7 ministers before attending a wider G20 meeting of ministers and central bank governors on April 10. The following day, Lew attended the joint G20-IMFC meeting, and continued with G20 meetings for the rest of the day.
In September, Lew once again traveled to Australia for a special meeting of G20 financial diplomats, during which time Germany served as host for a private lunch meeting of the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors. He returned to Australia in November for the main head-of-state summit of the G20, where he privately met with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, China, France, Japan, and with Mark Carney of the FSB.
As the chief financial diplomat from the most powerful nation and economy in the world, Jacob Lew is the central figure among G7 diplomats with whom he is in frequent contact, while closely coordinating with the chairs of the G20, the IMFC, and the heads of international organizations like the IMF and FSB. Through these and other groupings, Treasury Secretary Lew sits at what can only be understood as the absolute center of global financial diplomacy and governance.
Global Power Project, Part 8: Banking on Influence with Wells Fargo
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
Just recently, in late July, Wells Fargo surpassed the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) as the world’s largest bank by market capitalization. This followed Wells Fargo reporting a 19% increase in profits over the second quarter as the bank has been busy consolidating the housing market while other big banks have retreated from it. Wells Fargo had amassed a share of almost 40% of the U.S. mortgage market by early 2013.
Now, let’s put this in context with the company’s other recent activities.
Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia in the wake of the financial crisis, controlled roughly 28.8% of all home loans issued across the United States in 2012, compared to 11.2% of the market it controlled in 2007, just before the housing implosion. In 2012, the bank paid a $175 million settlement following revelations that “mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk.”
In the settlement, the world’s largest bank “admitted no wrongdoing,” noting in a press release that the bank simply wanted “to avoid a long and costly legal fight.” Then, in 2013, Wells Fargo agreed to a further $42 million settlement because “it neglected the maintenance and marketing of foreclosed homes in black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.” Again, of course, the bank admitted no wrongdoing.
But that’s just the tip of things. A civil mortgage fraud suit was filed against Wells Fargo in late 2012 for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over “reckless mortgage loans” made by the bank for over a decade in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Even in light of the massive settlement in 2012 over mortgage fraud, which simultaneously forced big banks to adhere to new rules regarding the mortgage market, it was found that both Bank of America and Wells Fargo had “flagrantly violated those obligations,” increasing foreclosure risks for Americans. Also, this past May, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $105 million settlement in a fraud case brought by Orange County, which also implicated Bank of New York Mellon to the tune of a $114 million settlement.
It gets better. In 2010, Wachovia – which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008 – paid a settlement of $160 million for laundering over $100 million in drug money for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Further, the bank admitted that it had failed to “apply the proper anti-laundering strictures” regarding the bank’s handling of $378.4 billion in currency exchanges with Mexico between 2004 and 2007. A federal prosecutor commented, “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” as tens of thousands of Mexicans were killed in an exponentially violent drug war.
Thus, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, not only did the big banks receive sprawling government bailouts (Wells Fargo got $25 billion from the U.S. government), but according to the UN, proceeds pouring in from the global drug trade ultimately helped keep Wells Fargo and others afloat as “the only liquid investment capital” available to them during the crisis. But Wells Fargo didn’t just profit from laundering money for major drug cartels — it also profited, and continues to profit, at the other end of the drug war as a major investor in the prison-industrial complex, specifically with heavy investments in the GEO Group, the second largest private prison company in the United States.
As the largest bank in the world, Wells Fargo is deeply connected with some of the most powerful U.S. and international institutions to ensure that no matter how many crimes it commits — fraud, illegal foreclosures, money laundering, you name it — it will continue to consolidate markets, grow larger and presumably get away with its criminal activities for relatively small fines. The Global Power Project examined a total of 26 individuals on the executive committee and board of directors at Wells Fargo to assess their institutional affiliations. The most represented institutions (with three individual affiliations each) are the Council on Foreign Relations and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), followed by Harvard, Citigroup, Chevron, the Financial Services Roundtable and Target Corporation (with two individual affiliations each).
Meet the Elites
Elaine L. Chao, who sits on the board of Wells Fargo, was formerly U.S. Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009. She was a Distinguished Fellow of the Heritage Foundation from 1996 to 2001 and has resumed that position since 2009. She was also the President and CEO of the United Way of America from 1992 to 1996, Director of the Peace Corps from 1991 to 1992, and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1989 to 1991. Chao is a member of the board of directors of Dole Food Company, News Corporation, Protective Life Corporation, the Institute of Politics of Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a member of Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
John S. Chen, also on the board of Wells Fargo, is a senior adviser to Silver Lake Partners, a director of the Walt Disney Company, a member of the Board of Overseers Emeriti of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, a former member of the President’s Export Council, a member of the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution, chairman of the U.S.-China Policy Advisory Roundtable at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Wells Fargo board member Enrique Hernandez, Jr. is the president and CEO of Inter-Con Security Systems, and sits on the boards of Chevron, Nordstrom, McDonald’s Corporation, and the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame. He is a member of the Harvard College Visiting and Harvard University Resources Committees and is a member of the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.
Federico F. Peña, on the Wells Fargo board, was a U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, and previously a member of the Colorado House of Representatives and a former mayor of Denver. More recently, he has been a senior adviser to Vestar Capital Partners, on the board of Sonic Corporation and a member of the Diversity Advisory Board of Toyota North America. A former national board member of the Obama-Biden Transition Team, Peña is also former National Co-Chair of Obama For America and currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
John G. Stumpf, the president and CEO of Wells Fargo, is a member of the board of directors of the Financial Services Forum and chairman of the board of the Financial Services Roundtable, and is also on the boards of Target Corporation, Chevron, and on the board of trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
For a mega-money laundering, drug war profiteering, prison-industry enlarging global bank like Wells Fargo, the evidence is obvious: it helps to have affiliations with individuals and institutions that make up the U.S. and increasingly the international power elite. Like the other big banks, Wells Fargo is too big to fail, too big to jail, too criminal to control — and too tumorous to tolerate.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Global Power Project, Part 7: Banking on Influence with Citigroup
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In the second quarter of 2013, the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, Citigroup, posted a 42% increase in profits which CEO Michael Corbat praised as a “well balanced” result of “cost cutting” programs, including the firing of 11,000 workers.
This big bank has a sordid history of predatory profiteering and criminal activity, not unlike all the other large banks. In the early 20th century, what was then National City Bank was the main bank for the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests. Over ensuing decades and mergers it eventually came to be Citibank, and in the late 1990s, Citigroup. At that time, the bank was dealing with accusations that it had aided in the laundering of roughly $100 million in payoffs by Mexican drug cartels.
In 2000, the mega-bank was accused of abusing borrowers and clients through predatory lending practices. The bank aroused further controversy by helping Enron evade financial rules which allowed the company to hide its real financial reporting from government regulators. In 2005, Citigroup paid a $2 billion settlement to Enron investors who had filed a class-action lawsuit against the bank for helping Enron hide billions of dollars in debt.
A 2005 report by Citigroup created the term ‘plutonomy’ to describe the modern state capitalist system in which there is only the rich “and everyone else”; an economy in which the rich increasingly become the consuming class, driven to a significant degree by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, [and] capitalist friendly cooperative governments.”
Referencing the United States, the U.K., Australia and Canada as modern plutonomies, Citigroup global strategist Ajay Kapur noted, “The Plutonomy is here, is going to get stronger, its membership is swelling,” and while the “risks” of plutonomies include “war, inflation, financial crises, the end of the technological revolution and populist political pressure,” Kapur noted that “the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.” Indeed, Citigroup would ensure that this was the case.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin helped to deregulate Wall Street and allow for massive mergers and the proliferation of dangerous financial instruments in the derivatives market, which helped create the future housing crisis. After leaving the White House, Rubin became an adviser to Citigroup, and ultimately the bank’s chairman, where he helped push the mega-bank further down the path taken by Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to build up an unprecedented housing bubble. When the inevitable happened, Citigroup owned tens of billions of dollars in bad debts. Meanwhile, Robert Rubin was appointed as an economic adviser to the transition team for President Obama.
Citigroup was subsequently bailed out by the federal government, that is, the U.S. taxpayer, and became the largest single recipient of bailout funds totaling some $476.2 billion in cash and guarantees. Citigroup was essentially put into receivership by the government, which decided to reward the bank after its highly effective and efficient participation in the destruction of the economy. The U.S. Treasury eventually sold the last of its shares in Citigroup in 2010.
Since that time, the bank has been quietly settling civil complaints and lawsuits, further proving that criminal activity by major financial institutions comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: if the cost of committing massive crimes is less than the benefit of engaging in such criminal activity, there is little incentive to obey the law rather than pay comparably lower fines after breaking it.
Between 2003 and 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused Citigroup of securities fraud five separate times, with the bank agreeing to pay settlements in each case, amounting to a slap on the wrist from the SEC. As a Bloomberg report stated bluntly, for Citigroup “obeying the law is too damn hard.” Or rather, simply, it is unnecessary.
In 2011, Citigroup paid a $285 million settlement with the SEC for defrauding investors. In 2012, the bank paid another settlement of $590 million for defrauding investors, though it made sure not to admit guilt as the payment was “solely to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation.” In 2013, Citigroup agreed to pay a further $968 million to Fannie Mae over the bad mortgage loans it sold to the company in the run-up to the financial crisis.
But before you assume that Citigroup simply defrauded investors and other institutions, know this: the bank also undertook foreclosures on hundreds of U.S. military members during the financial crisis, often while the military personnel were in Iraq or Afghanistan. After illegally foreclosing on military personnel while they were overseas fighting wars for the America’s imperialists and profiteers, Citigroup made a later appearance in Iraq, announcing in 2013 that it would be the first U.S. bank to open a branch in Bagdad “as major international oil groups as well as industrial and construction companies are looking to invest in Iraq.”
Iraq is just the latest hub of overseas criminal financial activities for Citigroup, which has meanwhile been struggling to “comply” with anti-money laundering laws after also participating in the largest financial scam in history: the Libor rate-rigging scandal. At the same time, the bank has been dooming the European Union’s crisis countries (namely Greece) to a faster decline, issuing self-fulfilling reports that suggest the region is headed for further crisis, thus reducing investor confidence and pushing the crisis-hit economies into even deeper crisis.
In sum, Citigroup’s fraudulent lifestyle – with its increased quarterly profits – is one more example of how the institutions of the financial system function as criminal conglomerates on a scale far surpassing any Mafia on record. And of course, for such criminal activity to go unpunished, the institution cannot exist in isolation. In fact, like all other big banks, Citigroup is heavily integrated in the national – and increasingly international – structure of elite institutions, with cross-membership between major corporations, think tanks, governmental positions, media and educational institutions.
Thirty-seven individuals on the executive committee and board of directors of Citigroup were examined for the Global Power Project. The most represented institution was the Council on Foreign Relations, with six individual affiliations, followed by Morgan Stanley, Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex), American Express, the Foreign Policy Association, IBM, the Brookings Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University, and Stanford University, among many others.
Meet the Elites
On the board of directors of Citigroup is Franz B. Humer, the chairman of Roche Holding, a major pharmaceutical conglomerate. Humer also sits on the International Advisory Council of JPMorgan Chase, and is chairman of INSEAD, chairman of Diageo Plc, a member of the international advisory board of Allianz SE, a member of the board of Jacobs Holdings, and a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (which advises EU leaders on promoting policies beneficial to large corporate and financial interests). Humer also serves, comfortingly, as chairman of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.
Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, is on the board of Citigroup. Rodin also served as the President of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994-2004, after which she remained as President Emerita. A former Provost of Yale University, Rodin also serves as a director of Comcast Corporation, AMR Corporation, the World Trade Memorial Foundation and Carnegie Hall. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former honorary director of the Brookings Institution. Additionally, Rodin is a member of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) – a joint venture between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the advancement of GMOs in Africa – and she served as a member of the High Level Panel of the African Development Bank. Rodin currently serves as a member of the international advisory council of the Mary Robinson Foundation, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. She is also a participant in the World Economic Forum, the Global Humanitarian Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative’s “poverty alleviation track,” and she is a board member of Obama’s White House Council for Community Solutions.
Another member of the Citigroup board is Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, who was pivotal in implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), much to the benefit of big banks and corporations, and to the detriment of poor and working people. Zedillo had previously served a number of positions in the Mexican government, including deputy director of the Bank of Mexico. Currently, Zedillo is the director of the Center for the Study of Globalization and an International Economics and Politics professor at Yale University. He is a member of the Group of Thirty, on the board of directors of Alcoa and Procter & Gamble, and on the international advisory boards of both BP, Rolls-Royce and ACE Ltd.. He is additionally an adviser to the Credit Suisse Research Institute, a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, a former member of the Trilateral Commission, the former chairman of the Global Development Network, a former chair of the High Level Commission on Modernization of the World Bank Group Governance, a former member of the international advisory board of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Coca-Cola Company, a former member of the Global Development Program Advisory Panel of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he is currently a member of the board of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
William R. Rhodes, another Citigroup board member, serves as a senior advise to Citi and is president and CEO of William R. Rhodes Global Advisors. A director of the Private Export Funding Corporation, Rhodes is a senior adviser to the World Economic Forum, the global management firm Oliver Wyman, vice chairman of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a director of the Korea Society and the U.S.-China Business Council, a member of Korean President Lee’s Council of Global Advisors, a member of the international advisory board of the National Bank of Kuwait, a senior adviser to the Dalian Government in China, a member of the private sector advisory board of the Inter-American Development Bank, a member of the international policy committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a member of the board of the Foreign Policy Association, and a trustee of the Asia Society and the Economic Club of New York. Rhodes is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Group of Thirty, the Lincoln Center Consolidated Corporate Fund Leadership Committee, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Business Committee, and he sits on the advisory council of the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce. He is a former vice chairman of the Institute of International Finance, a chairman emeritus of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, a director of the U.S.-Russia Business Council and the U.S.-Hong Kong Business Council, a chairman of the U.S.-Korea Business Council, a trustee and member of the board of governors of the New York Presbyterian Hospital, a chairman of the board of trustees of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, and a member of the board of overseers of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
Like all the big banks, Citigroup is heavily integrated with other dominant institutions in American and international society, which helps explain why the bank can break so many laws and get away with it. It’s not simply financial weight that makes this bank “too big to fail” and “too big to jail.” It’s the institutional affiliations that also help make it that way.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Global Power Project, Part 1: Exposing the Transnational Capitalist Class
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
An exclusive series for Occupy.com
The Global Power Project, an investigative series produced by Occupy.com, aims to identify and connect the worldwide institutions and individuals who comprise today’s global power oligarchy. By studying the relationships and varying levels of leadership that govern our planet’s most influential institutions — from banks, corporations and financial institutions to think tanks, foundations and universities — this project seeks to expose the complex, highly integrated network of influence wielded by relatively few individuals on a national and transnational basis. This is not a study of wealth, but a study of power.
Many now know the rhetoric of the 1% very well: the imagery of a small elite owning most of the wealth while the 99% take the table scraps. This rhetoric and imagery was made popular by the growth of the Occupy movement, so it seems appropriate that a project of Occupy.com should expand on this understanding and bring the activities of the global elite further to light.
In 2006, a UN report revealed that the world’s richest 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth, with those in the financial and internet sectors comprising the “super rich.” More than a third of the world’s super-rich live in the U.S., with roughly 27% in Japan, 6% in the U.K., and 5% in France. The world’s richest 10% accounted for roughly 85% of the planet’s total assets, while the bottom half of the population – more than 3 billion people – owned less than 1% of the world’s wealth.
Looking specifically at the United States, the top 1% own more than 36% of the national wealth and more than the combined wealth of the bottom 95%. Almost all of the wealth gains over the previous decade went to the top 1%. In the mid-1970s, the top 1% earned 8% of all national income; this number rose to 21% by 2010. At the highest sliver at the top, the 400 wealthiest individuals in America have more wealth than the bottom 150 million.
A 2005 report from Citigroup coined the term “plutonomy” to describe countries “where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.” The report specifically identified the U.K., Canada, Australia and the United States as four plutonomies. Published three years before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the Citigroup report stated: “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries.”
“The rich,” said the report, “are in great shape, financially.”
In early 2013, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the world’s 100 richest people over the course of 2012 – roughly $240 billion – would be enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. In the Oxfam report, “The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All,” the international charity noted that in the past 20 years, the richest 1% had increased their incomes by 60%. Barbara Stocking, an Oxfam executive, noted that this type of extreme wealth is “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive…We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.”
The report added: “In the UK, inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens. In China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa, which is now the most unequal country on Earth and significantly more unequal than at the end of apartheid.” In the United States, the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled from 10 to 20% since 1980, and for the top 0.01% in the United States, “the share of national income is above levels last seen in the 1920s.”
Previously, in July of 2012, James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, a major global consultancy, published a major report on tax havens for the Tax Justice Network which compiled data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and other private sector entities to reveal that the world’s super-rich have hidden between $21 and $32 trillion offshore to avoid taxation.
Henry stated: “This offshore economy is large enough to have a major impact on estimates of inequality of wealth and income; on estimates of national income and debt ratios; and – most importantly – to have very significant negative impacts on the domestic tax bases of ‘source’ countries.” John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network further commented that “Inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people… This new data shows the exact opposite has happened: for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of super-rich.”
With roughly half of the world’s offshore wealth, or some $10 trillion, belonging to 92,000 of the planet’s richest individuals —representing not the top 1% but the top 0.001% — we see a far more extreme global disparity taking shape than the one invoked by the Occupy movement. Henry commented: “The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax-free status of the enormous sums invested by their wealthy clients, is predicated on secrecy.”
In his 2008 book, “Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making,” David Rothkopf, a man firmly entrenched within the institutions of global power and the elites which run them, compiled a census of roughly 6,000 individuals whom he referred to as the “superclass.” They were defined not simply by their wealth, he said, but by the influence they exercised within the realms of business, finance, politics, military, culture, the arts and beyond.
Rothkopf noted: “Each member is set apart by his ability to regularly influence the lives of millions of people in multiple countries worldwide. Each actively exercises this power and often amplifies it through the development of relationships with other superclass members.”
The global elite are of course not defined by their wealth alone, but through the institutional, ideological and individual connections and networks in which they wield their influence. The most obvious example of these types of institutions are the multinational banks and corporations which dominate the global economy. In the first scientific study of its kind, Swiss researchers analyzed the relationship between 43,000 transnational corporations and “identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.”
In their report, “The Network of Global Corporate Control, researchers noted that this network – which they defined as “ownership” by a person or firm over another firm, whether partially or entirely – “is much more unequally distributed than wealth” and that “the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth.” The “core” of this network – which consists of the world’s top 737 corporations – control 80% of all transnational corporations (TNCs).
Even more extreme, the top 147 transnational corporations control roughly 40% of the entire economic value of the world’s TNCs, forming their own network known as the “super-entity.” The super-entity conglomerates all control each other, and thus control a significant portion of the rest of the world’s corporations with the “core” of the global corporate network consisting primarily of financial corporations and intermediaries.
In December of 2011, the former deputy secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, Roger Altman, wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he described financial markets as “a global supra-government” which can “oust entrenched regimes… force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes.” Altman said bluntly that the influence of this entity “dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund” as “they have become the most powerful force on earth.”
With the formation of this “super-entity” – a veritable global supra-government – made up of the world’s largest banks and corporations exerting immense influence over all other corporations, a new global class structure has evolved. It is this rarefied group of individuals and firms, and the relations they hold with one another, that we wish to further understand.
According to the 2012 report, “Corporate Clout Distributed: The Influence of the World’s Largest 100 Economic Entities,” of the world’s 100 largest economic entities in 2010, 42% were corporations while the rest were governments. Among the largest 150 economic entities, 58% were corporations. Wal-Mart was the largest corporation in 2010 and the 25th largest economic entity on earth, with greater revenue than the GDPs of no less than 171 countries.
According to the Fortune Global 500 list of corporations for 2011, Royal Dutch Shell next became the largest conglomerate on earth, followed by Exxon, Wal-Mart, and BP. The Global 500 made record revenue in 2011 totaling some $29.5 trillion — more than a 13% increase from 2010.
With such massive wealth and power held by these institutions and “networks” of corporations, those individuals who sit on the boards, executive committees and advisory groups to the largest corporations and banks wield significant influence on their own. But their influence does not stand in isolation from other elites, nor do the institutions of banks and corporations function in isolation from other entities such as state, educational, cultural or media institutions.
Largely facilitated by the cross-membership that exists between boards of corporations, think tanks, foundations, educational institutions and advisory groups — not to mention the continual “revolving door” between the state and corporate sectors — these elites become a highly integrated, organized and evolved social group. This is as true for the formation of national elites as it is for transnational, or global, elites.
The rise of corporations and banks to a truly global scale – what is popularly referred to as the process of “globalization” – was facilitated by the growth of other transnational networks and institutions such as think tanks and foundations, which sought to facilitate these ideological and institutional structures of globalization. A wealth of research and analysis has been undertaken in academic literature over the past couple of decades to understand the development of this phenomenon, examining the emergence of what is often referred to as the “Transnational Capitalist Class” (TCC). In various political science and sociology journals, researchers and academics reject a conspiratorial thesis and instead advance a social analysis of what is viewed as a powerful social system and group.
As Val Burris and Clifford L. Staples argued in an article for the International Journal of Comparative Sociology (Vol. 53, No. 4, 2012), “as transnational corporations become increasingly global in their operations, the elites who own and control those corporations will also cease to be organized or divided along national lines.” They added: “We are witnessing the formation of a ‘transnational capitalist class’ (TCC) whose social networks, affiliations, and identities will no longer be embedded primarily in the roles they occupy as citizens of specific nations.” To properly understand this TCC, it is necessary to study what the authors call “interlocking directorates,” defined as “the structure of interpersonal or interorganizational relations that is created whenever a director of one corporation sits on the governing board of another corporation.”
The growth of “interlocking directorates” is primarily confined to European and North American conglomerates, whereas those in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East largely remain “isolated from the global interlock network.” Thus, the “transnationalization” of corporate directorates and, ultimately, of global class structures “is more a manifestation of the process of European integration – or, perhaps, of the emergence of a North Atlantic ruling class.”
The conclusion of these researchers was that the ruling class is not “global” as such, but rather “a supra-national capitalist class that has gone a considerable way toward transcending national divisions,” notably in the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America; in their words, “the regional locus of transnational class formation is more accurately described as the North Atlantic region.” However, with the rise of the “East” – notably the economic might of Japan, China, India, and other East Asian nations – the interlocks and interconnections among elites are likely to expand as various other networks of institutions seek to integrate these regions.
The influence wielded by banks and corporations is not simply through their direct wealth or operations, but through the affiliations, interactions and integration by those who run the institutions with political and social elites, both nationally and globally. While we can identify a global elite as a wealth percentage (the top 1% or, more accurately, the top 0.001%), this does not account for the more indirect and institutionalized influence that corporate and financial leaders exert over politics and society as a whole.
To further understand this, we must identify and explore the dominant institutions which facilitate the integration of these elites from an array of corporations, banks, academia, the media, military, intelligence, political and cultural spheres. This will be the subject of the second installment in the series, appearing next week.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.
The “Real” Recovery: Welcome to the Network of Global Corporate Control
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is the second of a three-part series exclusive for Occupy.com
How have your personal finances been since the global economic crisis began in 2008? Are you in debt? Unemployed? Struggling? Are you below the poverty line? Has your standard of living stagnated – or declined? Turns out, it doesn’t matter how the population is doing, because, we are told, we are in an “economic recovery,” or haven’t you heard?
Why is this a “recovery”? It’s simple: because global banks and corporations are making record profits, obviously everything is “back on track.”
Despite international turmoil in financial markets, a collapsing Europe, natural disaster in Japan, and increased food and fuel prices spurring social unrest and poverty, global corporations had a wonderful year in 2011.
The Global 500 posted record revenues for 2011 at $29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from 2010. Eight of the top 10 conglomerates were in the energy sector, receiving “an extra boost… as average oil prices reached their highest inflation-adjusted level since the 1860s.” The oil industry alone generated $5 trillion in sales, roughly 17% of the total sales of the Global 500.
Commercial banks emerged as the second largest industry on the Global 500, “thanks largely to lending in new markets,” such as Latin America, certain parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The auto industry was the third largest industry on the Global 500, taking in a total of $2.4 trillion in sales, up 14.6% from 2010.
In 2011, as bank profits in the United States and Europe were increasing, the very same banks recording billions in quarterly profits were announcing cuts to thousands of jobs. In April of 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that three of Europe’s largest banks, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Banco Santander, had reported major profits for the first quarter, “even during a financial crisis.”
As the banks in Europe were worried about their ability to continue reporting profits, they employed a new method to ensure continued plundering: buying back their bonds (government debts) at cheap rates. Thus, not only are they able to increase quarterly profits, but they are able to ensure that the crisis continues and deepens by perpetuating the problems that created it (and profiting along the way).
Major banks like Société Générale, Commerzbank AG, Banco Santander and others have opted for choosing short-term profits at the expense of long-term stability. Reports over the summer of 2012 suggested that global corporate profits were lagging due to the economic crisis in Europe. But not to worry, they’re still doing much better than you ever will.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, corporations began implementing massive layoffs to keep their profits up; interest rates remained low, which kept the costs of borrowing very low and, as the Financial Times reported in early 2012, “U.S. corporate profits are higher, as a share of gross domestic product, than at any time since 1950.”
According to a 2011 study from Northeastern University, since the Second World War, “there’s never been a worse recovery for jobs and worker pay,” and at the same time, “never a better one for corporate profits.” The economic “recovery” was said to have begun in June of 2009, but how is “recovery” defined? After all, people are still struggling, more than ever in recent history; unemployment is high, job losses soar, poverty spreads and insecurity reigns supreme.
So why, then, has it been said that the United States entered a “recovery”? Well, as the study pointed out, since June of 2009, 88% of all U.S. growth went to corporate profits, while wages and salaries represented 1% of growth. Compared to previous economic crises, the situation is much worse than ever before.
At the end of the recession in the early 1990s, 50% of U.S. growth went to worker pay, while corporate profits had actually declined by 1%. Following the dot-com bust in 2001, worker pay and jobs accounted for 15% of U.S. growth, while 53% of growth was accounted for by corporate profits.
In the recoveries of the 1973-75 and 1981-82 recessions, worker pay and jobs accounted for 30% of U.S. growth. In the midst of the current “recovery,” where 88% of growth is in corporate profits and 1% is in worker pay, employees have been roughly 6% more productive, working longer hours. As the study noted: “The only major beneficiaries of the recovery have been corporate profits and the stock market and its shareholders.”
Corporate profits in 2010 were 17% higher than in 2009, and when financial firms are included, the rate goes even higher. An analyst with Citigroup explained that roughly 90% of the growth in corporate profits “has come from cost-cutting,” largely facilitated by layoffs and hoarding cash.
As the Department of Commerce reported, corporate profits accounted for 14% of the national income over 2010, “the highest proportion ever recorded,” while the share of national income from smaller businesses fell to a 17-year low.
As profits soared, not only at multinational corporations, but at the major banks which caused the crisis in the first place, they continued to undertake massive layoffs. The Northeastern University report on corporate profits also noted that one of the main causes of the crisis in the first place was the relationship between increased corporate profits and decreased worker wages and benefits. Thus, without a hint of irony, the same things that created the crisis are exacerbated and made worse after the crisis: and this is what is called a “recovery.”
The Commerce Department revised its reporting of corporate profits from 2008, 2009, and 2010, noting that they were actually $343 billion higher than they had originally estimated. Over the same three-year period, personal income of American families was $265 billion lower than had been previously estimated. In late 2012, worker wages (as a total of U.S. GDP) reached an all-time low, while corporate profits reached an all-time high.
In fact, late 2012 saw corporate profits increase by 18.6% from the previous year, what Forbes reported was “the largest after-tax profit quarter in the nation’s history.” American worker wages, as a percentage of national GDP, had been – until 1975 – almost always at least half of U.S. GDP, and as recently as 2001, accounted for 49% of GDP. In 2012, they hit an “all-time low” at 43.5% of GDP. Further, CEO pay has also been rising 27 times faster than worker pay since 1978.
Of course, it’s not merely corporations raking in record profits, as the banks are not to be left behind. In the United States, second quarter profits for big banks in 2012 were at $34.5 billion, an increase of nearly $6 billion from the same time the previous year. Banks were making profits not seen since 2007, just before the financial crisis struck. Part of the reason for increased bank profits had to do with dramatic cuts in jobs and sales of assets.
In 2007, financial institutions in the United States employed over 2.2 million full-time employees, and in 2012 there were 100,000 fewer employees and 14% fewer banks. With help from the Federal Reserve, which provided immense funds for the financial industry (called “quantitative easing”) while maintaining very low interest rates, banks have been able to take in more profits from mortgages as the Fed continues to purchase bad mortgages from the big banks.
This is, of course, merely doing the same thing that created the financial crisis in the first place, but calling it a “solution.” Not to mention that the bill gets handed to the population.
In December of 2012, bank profits increased by 9.4% from the previous quarter, “the best quarterly performance in six years,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Banks thus had a combined profit of $37.6 billion in the third quarter of 2012, the highest total profit since the $38 billion profit recorded in the third quarter of 2006, during the height of the housing bubble.
Welcome to the “economic recovery,” where the big banks and corporations that created the global economic crisis – with the servile participation of our elected governments – are doing better than ever before, making record profits while poverty hits record levels. This is what we call “democracy.”
Perhaps it is time people begin to redefine the words “recovery” and “democracy,” unless we want to see more of the same.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Banking on Criminality: Drug Money and the Above-the-Law Global Banking Cartel
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
In what the New York Times declared as a “dark day for the rule of law” on December 11, 2012, HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, failed to be indicted for extensive criminal activities in laundering money to and from regimes under sanctions, Mexican drug cartels, and terrorist organizations (including al-Qaeda). While admitting culpability, and with guilt assured, state and federal authorities in the United States decided not to indict the bank “over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.” Instead, HSBC agreed to pay a $1.92 billion settlement.
The fear was that an indictment would be a “death sentence” for HSBC. The U.S. Justice Department, which was prosecuting the case, was told by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve that taking such an “aggressive stance” against HSBC could have negative effects upon the economy. Instead, the bank was to forfeit $1.2 billion and pay $700 million in fines on top of that for violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act. In a statement, HSBC’s CEO stated, “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes… We are committed to protecting the integrity of the global financial system. To this end, we will continue to work closely with governments and regulators around the world.” With more than $7 billion in Mexican drug cartel money laundered through HSBC alone, the fine amounts to a slap on the wrist, no more than a cost-benefit analysis of doing business: if the ‘cost’ of laundering billions in drug money is less than the ‘benefit,’ the policy will continue.
As part of the settlement, not one banker at HSBC was to be charged in the case. The New York Times acknowledged that, “the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail.” HSBC joins a list of some of the world’s other largest banks in paying fines for criminal activities, including Credit Suisse, Lloyds, ABN Amro and ING, among others. The U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer referred to the settlement as an example of HSBC “being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight.” Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, which was responsible for prosecuting the case against HSBC, was previously a partner at a law firm (along with the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder) where they represented a number of major banks and other conglomerates in cases dealing with foreclosure fraud. While Breuer and Holder were partners at Covington & Burling, the firm represented notable clients such as Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, among others. It seems that at the Justice Department, they continue to have the same job: protecting the major banks from being persecuted for criminal behaviour.
With a great deal of focus on the $1.9 billion in fines being paid out by HSBC, little mention was made of the fact that HSBC had roughly $2.5 trillion in assets, and earned $22 billion in profits in 2011. But not to worry, HSBC’s executive said that they “accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” and added: “We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.” So not only did the executives of the world’s second largest bank apologize for laundering billions in drug money (along with other crimes), but they apologized… again. Thus, they pay a comparably small fine and face no criminal charges. I wonder if a crack dealer from a ghetto in the United States could avoid criminal prosecution if he were to apologize not once, but twice. Actually, we don’t have to wonder. In May of 2012, as HSBC executives were testifying before the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C., admitting their role in drug money laundering, a poor black man was convicted of peddling 5.5 grams of crack cocaine just across the river from the U.S. Capitol building, and he was given 10 years in prison.
Back in August the bank stated that they had put aside $700 million to pay fines for illegal activities, which conveniently was the exact amount they were fined by the U.S. Justice Department (not including the forfeiture of profits). Lanny Breuer declared the settlement to be “a very just, very real and very powerful result.” Indeed, one could agree that the results are “powerful” and “very real,” in that they provide a legal state-sanctioned decision that big banks will not be persecuted for their vast criminal activities, precisely because they are big banks. The “very real” result of this is that we can guarantee that such criminal behaviour will continue, since the banks will continue to be protected by the state. With news of the settlement, HSBC’s market share price rose by 2.8%, a clear sign that “financial markets” also reward criminal behaviour and the “pervasively polluted” culture at HSBC (in the words of the U.S. Senate report).
Jack Blum, a Washington attorney and former special counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who specializes in money laundering and financial crimes stated that, “If these people aren’t prosecuted, who will be?” He further asked: “What do you have to do to be prosecuted? They have crossed every bright line in bank compliance. When is there an offense that’s bad enough for a big bank to be prosecuted?” But the Justice Department’s Lanny Breuer explained that his department had to consider “the collateral consequences” of prosecutions: “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose their jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?”
In other words, the U.S. Justice Department decided that big banks are above the law, because if they weren’t, there would be severe consequences for the financial system. And this is not just good news for HSBC, the “favourite” bank of Mexican drug cartels (according to Bloomberg), but it’s good news for all banks. After all, HSBC is not the only bank engaged in laundering drug money and other illegal activities. Back in 2010, Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) paid roughly $160 million in fines for laundering some $378.4 billion in drug money. Drug money has also been found to be laundered through other major financial institutions, including Bank of America, Banco Santander, Citigroup, and the banking branch of American Express. Nearly all of the world’s largest banks have been or are currently being investigated for other crimes, including rigging interest rates (in what’s known as the Libor scandal), and other forms of fraud. Among the banks being investigated for criminal activity by U.S. prosecutors are Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, and Société Générale, among others. Regulators and investigators of the Libor scandal – “the biggest financial scandal ever” – report that the world’s largest banks engage in “organized fraud” and function like a “cartel” or “mafia.”
The pervasive criminality of this “international cartel” is so consistent that one commentator with the Guardian has referred to global banks as “the financial services wing of the drug cartels.” But indeed, where could be a better place for drug cartels to deposit their profits than with a financial cartel? And why would banks give up their pivotal role in the global drug trade? While the pharmaceutical drug industry records annual revenues in the hundreds of billions of dollars (which is nothing to ignore), the global trade in illicit drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, amounted to roughly 2.3-5.5% of global GDP, around $2.1 trillion (U.S.) in 2009. That same year, the same United Nations office reported that billions of dollars in drug money saved the major global banks during the financial crisis, as “the only liquid investment capital” pouring into banks. Roughly $325 billion in drug money was absorbed by the financial system in 2009. It is in the interest of banks to continue profiting off of the global drug trade, and now they have been given a full green light by the Obama administration to continue.
Welcome to the world of financial criminality, the “international cartel” of drug money banks and their political protectors. These banks not only launder billions in drug money, finance terrorists and commit massive fraud, but they create massive financial and economic crises, and then our governments give them trillions of dollars in bailouts, again rewarding them for creating crises and committing criminal acts. On top of that, we, the people, are handed the bill for the bailouts and have to pay for them through reduced standards of living by being punished into poverty through ‘austerity measures’ and have our labour, resources, and societies exploited through ‘structural reform’ policies. These criminal banks dominate the global economy, and dictate policies to national political oligarchies. Their greed, power, and parasitic nature knows no bounds.
The fact that the Justice Department refused to prosecute HSBC because of the effects it could have on the financial system should be a clear sign that the financial system does not function for the benefit of people and society as a whole, and thus, that it needs to be dramatically changed, cartels need to be destroyed, banks broken up, criminal behaviour punished (not rewarded), and that people should dictate the policies of society, not a small network of international criminal cartel banks.
But then, that would be rational, so naturally it’s not even up for discussion.
For a more detailed analysis of the criminal activities of the “international cartel” of banks, which scientists have referred to as a “super-entity”, see: “The Global Banking ‘Super-Entity’ Drug Cartel: The “Free Market” of Finance Capital.”
If your money isn’t being laundered through a cartel, please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project, so that I can continue analyzing and exposing the activities and institutions of this cartel.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.