Too big for justice

Powerful banks get a pass from the Department of Justice.

Editorial board


The United States has been embroiled in a “war on drugs” since the 1930s, well before  President Richard Nixon coined the phrase that now describes America’s prohibition, foreign intervention and foreign military aid intended to reduce the use of mind-altering substances. More recently, the “war on terror” has become another major pillar of both United States domestic and foreign policy. The print edition of this page publishes the statistics of the American soldiers who have been killed in action in two of the campaigns of the war on terror.

Millions of Americans are incarcerated for possession and sale of illegal drugs every year. However, when HSBC, the largest European bank, was caught laundering money for drug cartels and terrorists and helping nations like North Korea evade sanctions, it was able to reach a settlement of just $1.9 billion. This figure equates to about five weeks’ profits for the corporation. Not one executive faced criminal charges.

The wisdom in allowing this settlement betrays the American soldiers who have been fighting the wars on terrorism and drugs and the individuals incarcerated for simple possession.

While American soldiers have risked their lives, HSBC has been helping terrorists and extremists finance operations. In an interview with “Frontline,”  Lanny Breuer, who serves as assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, explained that the settlement took into account the effects that bringing a case against HSBC would have had on the entire economic system. The Justice Department decided that pursuing a case against the corporation would have sent shockwaves through the fragile economic system, in essence admitting that the bank was too big to prosecute and indicative of a larger problem with the banking system.