Sunday, December 22, 2013

How far down the scale of integrity do we have to slide before someone stands up and says 'enough is enough'?

As a nation we are sliding inexorably down a slippery moral slope to a place where integrity, honesty, human decency and just plain, simple ethical conduct will have no meaning and no identity!

Last week, it was announced that U.S. regulators have fined Royal Bank of Scotland $100 million for breaches of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Sudan, and elsewhere.

According to orders filed by the Federal Reserve and New York's banking regulators, going back as far as 2002, RBS put in place a system to transfer dollars from the U.S. in a way that hid from regulators and other banks where that money was headed.

The system, which was in place until 2011, ended up processing over 3,500 transactions, sending $523 million to Sudanese and Iranian customers. Some of the money went to individuals specifically barred by the Treasury Department from doing transactions with U.S. entities. The Treasury Department's list of barred individuals includes U.S.-designated terrorists and drug dealers.

According to New York regulators, RBS provided written instructions to its payment processors in the United Kingdom explaining that it was "important" to strip out any information that revealed the destination "for all U.S. dollar payments to a country subject to U.S. sanctions."

I have been looking hard but I cannot find any report or any evidence which shows any sense of concern being evinced by the Government, the Treasury or Government Ministers over this matter.

No doubt there will be some in the City, perhaps in Government, possibly among those who surround Boris Johnson who will say, '...Oh well, this is an old matter and things have changed since then...' but reflect, the fine has only just been announced, and what is more, this fine is going to be paid with British tax-payers' money. I haven't heard any outcry about that issue either.

What in God's name has happened to us as a country? How is it that we can have become so inured to scandals of this magnitude, that we can just blithely wipe off $100 million of taxpayers' money, at a time of great austerity, and no-one raises a word of objection?

Well I bloody well object, and this fine should be made to come straight out of the bonus pot that this pariah bank will have set aside for its overpaid  and grossly indulged staffers.

Of course, it is too much to expect that anyone would be prosecuted for this money laundering activity.

Cameron, Osborne, Bo-Jo and their clique don't seem to feel it necessary to prosecute City fat-cats for crimes like money laundering, and foreign sanctions breaking.

They daren't!

They are too fearful that if they were to raise a finger against these criminals, that it would send a lot of difficult messages to those international, so-called 'businessmen', the foreign billionaires whom they want to encourage to relocate their money to this country. The men and women in Russia, China, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Dubai, Saudi and elsewhere in the Far East who are suddenly in possession of huge amounts of money they would rather hide from their own politicians, prosecutors and regulators, for all sorts of dubious reasons, and relocate it to a sound banking environment, with a Government with sound appreciation of business methods and a liberal view of taxation!

A country where the banking and commercial sector is very much left alone to do its own thing without too much interference from Government, and where the regulators and prosecutors do what they are told and keep their noses out of all kinds of dirty dealings, if the Government tells them to!

A country with wide access to the offshore banking industry which understands the imperative of paying bankers well, and keeping them onside.

For secondary reasons they are also very concerned that the big banks would activate their threats and possibly relocate their centres of operation, and cease paying the annual 'Danegeld', (approximately 11% of GDP), they shell out annually for the privilege of operating in one of the least regulated jurisdictions in the banking world.

Mind you, it's not just the Tories who doff their hats to the City, Gordon Brown was a serial Square Mile arse-licker and brown noser when Labour were last in power, and he regularly made the trip down to the Mansion House to laud the banksters for their much supposed brilliance in financial wizardry.

There is and never has been any excuse for this kind of behaviour. We have lived through a banking crisis during which billions of tax-payers' pounds have been squandered propping up dysfunctional banking institutions, and being used to continue to pay unjustified bonuses to the very men and women who screwed up the financial system in the first place, while ordinary, decent, and honourable men and women have been forced into a seemingly endless period of financial austerity.

Those of us who lived our lives frugally and did not engage in an orgy of spending on leveraged credit cards; those who bought houses to live in, not to speculate with; those who brought up their children properly and honestly, and who educated them well, in the certain belief that a good education is the only way forward for intelligent children from ordinary families; those of us who saved as much as possible for the future, who paid our way and did not rely on State handouts and welfare benefits, we have seen everything we believed in and worked for trashed, devalued, undermined and debased.

Our savings are being whittled away by inflation and rock-bottom interest rates; our pension funds have been raped by greedy intermediaries and brokers; our children are told that education is not necessary and that all a young person needs is to 'get lucky' and win the Lottery or the X Factor.

Take this into consideration with any of the other trash programmes where kids of dubious abilities queue up to become the latest celebrity, or alternatively where football players get paid £200,000 a week (how can any person justify that kind of salary?), and you a looking into a whole new paradigm of distorted values, where ethics, honesty and integrity count for nothing any more, a dog-eat-dog world, where young girls are subjected to a level of sexualisation at criminally-early ages, and then trafficked for the gratification of perverts, paedophiles and panderers on the Internet.

We are subjected to constant exposure of the infamous and distorted value sets of wealthy people like Nigella Lawson and her former husband, Charles Saatchi, who will trade insults and expose the personal dirty laundry of their dysfunctional relationship with each other to a waiting world, while the criminal trial of their former employees goes, almost disregarded, while the press reports every last ounce of scandal and shame dredged up from the wreckage of their tawdry marriage.

What I am describing is a world where all attempts at maintaining ordinary integrity and basic morality, have been set at naught; where the lunatics have taken over the asylum; and where there are no standards of honesty and decency left.

Recent years in the financial sector have demonstrated how this absence of ethical morality and commercial integrity has been allowed to permeate throughout the entire body politic, right up to the very top floors.

Every conceivable financial crime has been perpetrated against the clients and customers, starting with theft and downright fraud, moving through conspiracy to rig markets, front running, insider dealing, and market manipulation; to vast numbers of cases of money laundering and terrorist financing.

Major global banks like HSBC have openly run money laundering operations for Mexican drug cartels, and when confronted, have called out noble members of the House of Lords to seek to mislead the public claiming that the UK regulators had no jurisdiction over the case because the bank concerned was in Mexico!

Other banks have been forced to set aside billions of pounds to reimburse their clients for wholesale fraudulent business practices in PPI sales; Barclays Bank led a grubby group of spivs and wideboys in the deliberate manipulation of the LIBOR market, from which more payments are expected next year as a whole raft of civil actions descends upon them in the US and other civil jurisdictions.

There hardly seems to have been a business sector from which the banks could have earned a turn, where they have not turned loose their army of crooks, hucksters, fraudsters, loblolly men and other purveyors of snake oil, or dodgy deals!

U.K. bank Standard Chartered paid a $340 million fine for violations of US law last year. Other banks caught up in activities which grossly flouted US Sanctions laws have said they believed they were following rules when they were omitting certain information when processing payments, rules that may have been allowed by the U.K. government but not the U.S. Not so, fraud and sanctions busting is the same wherever it is committed.

As well as paying the fine, RBS has been forced to put in place new measures to make sure it doesn't break the rules again. It also "terminated" the head of its "Money Laundering Prevention Unit" for corporate markets, which seems justified. Also out is RBS's head of banking in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

In my view, this is nowhere near enough.

When those Sanctions violations were undertaken, employees of RBS at very senior levels sat down and deliberately worked out the plan they adopted for ensuing that they hid the payments to interdicted jurisdictions from US regulators. This was not just some bit of off-hand skulduggery thought up by a couple of floor traders, this was a concerted and deliberate policy issue carried though by identifiable employees, and they should all have stood in the dock, in the US, and faced the likelihood of serious periods of incarceration.

We live in an era when all pretence at the maintenance of  anything resembling morality, decency or integrity has been extinguished, and anything goes in the financial market as long as there is a profit in it.

Banks can launder money, steal, cheat, lie, or defraud outright and absolutely nothing will be done about it. Their executives will never grip the rails at the Old Bailey, their employees will continue to be paid salaries and bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice, and when it all goes tits up, they will demand that the supine politicians prop them up with our money for fear they will collapse.

And the craven bastards will comply!

This is the UK now, and this is the environment in which we venture at our peril. It will continue to get worse as Cameron,. Osborne and Bo-Jo and their galere of shiny-faced toffs and millionaires continue to set out their stall to encourage every foreign crook and oligarch to come here to evade the consequences of their crimes at home.

Remember, as Balzac reminds us,

"...Behind every great fortune  there is a great crime..."!

Happy Christmas!


3 comments:

AbogadoNZ said...

Another great post with its catalogue of craven behaviour. I have one question Rowan - how are we going to fix it? Unlike some others I believe there are far more of us than them and it can be fixed but only if the action is concerted and well managed. Any views - I have a few.
Ashley

Raymond R said...

Great posting. Have a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year Rowan

Martin Snell said...

Excellent post Rowan. I came here via your link on Richard Murphy's blog, and have taken the liberty of sharing your post on Facebook.
It's good to see another author attempting to raise the ideals of morality and integrity in the modern dialogue