Credit Suisse: Big Crimes Become
by Ralph Nader
The routine ability to evade proper punishment is the root of the issue of so much corporate and Wall Street crime—a slap on the wrist leads to a perpetual cycle of wrongdoing with no end in sight.
In May of 2014, financial firm Credit Suisse AG pled guilty to serious criminal charges. The giant bank aided and assisted approximately 22,000 wealthy U.S. taxpayers (whose names Credit
The criminals depend upon the gulability of the American public...
These elaborate illegal acts over many years are quite revealing. They show a deliberate willingness by Credit Suisse AG officials to knowingly engage in profitable activities that defrauded the United States Treasury and burdened honest taxpayers. Credit Suisse paid a $2.6 billion fine—small compared to the size of the crimes and the company’s large revenues. These crimes were yet another sordid chapter in the ever-burgeoning tax-evading business that makes its waves with wealthy Americans and massive corporate entities. But the Credit Suisse story does not end there.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, was enacted to protect the retirement savings of retirement plan participants. The law, in theory, automatically disqualifies institutions like Credit Suisse AG who have committed serious crimes or pled guilty to serious crimes from serving as a “qualified professional asset manager” (QPAM) of ERISA assets or pension plans.
Unfortunately, the Department of Labor has not adequately enforced this law or its regulations in this area. Since waivers started being granted in 1997, 23 culpable firms have been granted exemptions from this disqualification rule and been allowed to continue their business of advising pension and other investment funds. Six of these waivers were granted to QPAMs that, like Credit Suisse AG, violated serious laws either in the United States or abroad. Remarkably, no waivers formally demanded by their corporate law firms have been rejected.
The Department of Labor (DOL) already has granted Credit Suisse a temporary waiver to continue conducting their pension management business. On January 15th, the DOL held a public hearing—where I testified— to discuss whether Credit Suisse and its affiliates can continue this troubling trend of avoiding the consequences of their actions indefinitely. Credit Suisse AG is hoping to completely sidestep the mechanisms of justice for their admittedly serious crimes and carry on business as usual—a result that in itself is, unfortunately, business as usual. Is it not astounding to think a company, which knowingly engaged in such illegal activities, would not be deterred from engaging in activities that could be harmful to retirees as well?
Public Citizen’s Bartlett Naylor wrote in a public comment to the Department of Labor:
“Firms that engage in criminal activity should face real consequences. Where those consequences are excused, the firm is invited to become a repeat offender; and the deterrence effect for other firms is nullified. Pension fund beneficiaries are especially vulnerable to Wall Street abuse because their savings may be managed by firms they do not even choose, let alone control. As overseer of the nation’s ERISA-governed funds, the Department of Labor bears the heavy responsibility of policing the integrity of the pension fund management industry. The DOL must apply all its tools to achieve this lofty goal. They should be used, not routinely discarded.”
This routine ability to evade proper punishment is the root of the issue of so much corporate and Wall Street crime—a slap on the wrist leads to a perpetual cycle of wrongdoing with no end in sight. Their corporate lawyers turn laws into “no-law” laws. Corporate crime pays.
James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Co. and current chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, estimates that the United States loses between $170 billion to $200 billion a year in tax revenue through offshore tax havens. He told the Corporate Crime Reporter in 2013:
“The idea that you would actually permit big ticket tax dodgers to walk off of the stage with a slap on the wrist — like the proposed [Credit] Swiss settlement — or that you would let companies like Apple and Microsoft, General Electric and Google — shift their most valuable corporate assets to places where they have almost no activity and evade corporate income taxes at a time when we are slashing aid to kids in schools, money for seniors — this is outrageous.”
The Department of Labor, which exists to defend workers, now has a unique opportunity to stand proudly at its post and to send a clear message—a firm signal—to other Qualified Professional Asset Managers that if they commit unthinkable criminal violations, they lose the ability to handle pension funds. On the other hand, allowing these institutions to continue to receive permanent waivers would be a clear signal that the DOL will tolerate cutting corners and criminal wrongdoing by powerful financial institutions at the expense of workers, complying taxpayers, democracy, and the rule of law.
Now is the time for advocates and citizens alike to speak out strongly against this manner of blatantly averting justice and fostering a culture of continual corporate criminality. Contact the Office of Exemption Determinations at the Department of Labor and let them know.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).
Banksters Pretend that Prosecuting Wall Street Crime Will Blow Up the Economy
Wall Street Criminals Threaten that Economy Will Blow Up If They’re ProsecutedThe Department of Justice is “considering” initiating criminal charges against 2 banks.
In response, the normal cast of characters is saying – as they have for years – that prosecuting banks will cause a meltdown of the economy.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York recently mocked the silly claims of gloom and doom:
“Companies, especially financial institutions, will do almost anything to avoid a tough enforcement action and therefore have a natural and powerful incentive to make prosecutors believe that death or dire consequences await,” he said. “I have heard assertions made with great force and passion that if we take any criminal action, the skies will darken; the oceans will rise; nuclear winter will be upon us; and the world as we know it will end.”
As we’ve repeatedly noted, this is wholly untrue.
Indeed, prosecuting the individual Wall Street executives who knowingly committed criminal fraud won’t harm the economy. After all, the main driver of economic growth is a strong rule of law. And numerous Nobel prize winning economists have said that prosecuting Wall Street white collar is necessary for a prosperous economy.
Proof that prosecuting criminal fraud doesn’t hurt the economy comes from Iceland:
[The U.S. and Europe have thwarted white collar fraud investigations … let alone prosecutions.] On the other hand, Iceland has prosecuted the fraudster bank heads (and here and here) and their former prime minister, and their economy is recovering nicely … because trust is being restored in the financial system.
In response to the sky-is-falling spouting banking apologists, professor of law and economics – and chief S&L prosecutor – William Black explains:
First, no banker is “too big to jail.” They are easily replaceable and removing a fraudulent bank CEO from power is the single most productive act that regulators and prosecutors can accomplish. [The Department of Justice’s chief of criminal prosecutions] Breuer and Attorney General Eric Holder were involved in a con when they claimed that their failure to prosecute the senior bank officers leading the frauds was in any way related to “too big to fail.” Hilariously, they even applied the “rationale” for non-prosecution to former bank officers – as if a bank would fail “because” its former officers were prosecuted. It is a testament to the weakness of the reportage that this claim was not treated with ridicule.
Second, valid fraud prosecutions do not “cause” a business to fail. The fraud causes them to fail. They should fail when their “profits” arise from fraud. In particular, they should fail in the case of accounting control fraud because their “profits” are the fictional product of accounting fraud. The markets and the economy are greatly improved when fraudulent enterprises are destroyed. ***
Third, very little is actually “destroyed,” when we place a fraudulent bank in receivership, fire the crooked CEO, and sell the bank to an acquirer of integrity and competence. The new bank will, net, be greatly improved because it has been freed from control by the fraudulent leadership that was “looting” the bank (George Akerlof and Paul Romer, 1993, “Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit”).
Fourth, there is rarely a need to prosecute a bank. In virtually every case in which the bank’s frauds cause serious harm senior officers of the bank will have led the fraud and profited from it. Everyone in law enforcement realizes that any effective deterrence will come from prosecuting those officers and not only removing their fraud proceeds but also imposing fines that will leave the officers bankrupt.
Fifth, the bank’s controlling officers are in an immense conflict of interest when their frauds are detected. They control the bank and its resources. Their first priority is to prevent their own prosecution. Their second priority is to prevent any substantial “claw back” of their compensation. Their third and fourth priorities are to do the same for less senior officers. This isn’t altruism (though it certainly has an aspect of class-based affinity). Fraudulent CEOs realize that it is risky to allow the prosecutors to gain any leverage over more junior officers who may “flip” and testify against the CEO. The fraudulent officers controlling the bank, therefore, will gladly trade seemingly huge fines in exchange for obtaining their top four priorities.
[Finally, the government’s policy of not prosecuting Wall Street criminals] produceswhat Akerlof and Romer warned was the “sure thing” of CEO “looting” through accounting control fraud plus the assurance that the CEO will not be prosecuted, forced to surrender his fraud proceeds, or forced to pay fines that bankrupt him.Unsurprisingly, the result has been unprecedented accounting control fraud by elite banksters.***
None of this explains why they don’t prosecute bankers (much less ex bankers)
Indeed, the whole if-y0u-prosecute-the-economy-dies scam is like the 2008 bailouts. As we wrote at the time:
Congressmen Brad Sherman and Paul Kanjorski and Senator James Inhofe all say that the government warned of martial law if Tarp wasn’t passed.
As Karl Denninger wrote yesterday:
[S]ounds like “Bail me out or I will crash everything.”
Isn’t that analagous to walking into a bank, opening one’s coat to reveal an explosives-laced belt, and saying “gimme all the money or everyone dies!”
I noted in November:
In the 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little plays the new sheriff in an old Western town. The sheriff is African-American, and when he rides into town for the first time, the [racist] townspeople pull out their guns and are about to shoot him.
But he quickly puts a gun to his own head, pretends he’s scared of his own gun, and says “BACK OFF OR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN GUY GETS IT!!!” The townspeople are dumb and fall for it, suddenly terrified that he’ll kill himself. Here’s the scene.
That’s what Wall Street is doing with the bailout.
The fat cats on Wall Street are saying “give us a lot of money, and buy all of our bad debt for a lot more than its worth, or Wall Street will get it and we’ll go into a depression!”
Are Americans stupid enough to fall for it?
In a recent interview, William K. Black uses the exact same Blazing Saddles sheriff-bank analogy.
Any way you look at it, the too big to fails are not needed and they are dragging our economy into a black hole. Like the sheriff in Blazing Saddles … they are playing us for fools.
[Yves Smith] shared another analogy with me: a man with 15lbs. of Semtex strapped to his waist. She says “any surprise people in the vicinity are very attentive to his desires?”
Indeed, it’s the old protection racket.