Time for Justice Department to Apply Real Deterrents to Bank Malfeasance

Why does the Justice Department continue to provide mere lip service in holding big banks accountable for egregious financial crimes instead of aggressively prosecuting them in a manner that will substantively deter future malfeasance? Too often Federal prosecutors adopt a ‘wink and nod’ approach to crimes on Wall Street rather than acting vigorously to eliminate them. The most recent example involves four of the world’s largest banks: Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays PLC, and The Royal Bank of Scotland.

According to reports the four will plead guilty to felony charges of conspiracy to manipulate global financial markets, specifically foreign currency markets, over a five-year period from December 2007 to January 2013. Though the four (and a fifth bank, UBS AG) will pay fines that approach $5.8 billion, none of the banks lose their ability to continue trading in the markets in which they committed their violations. Moreover, the Federal Government refuses to hold bank executives personally responsible for the collusion and for allowing an environment of illicit conduct to thrive.

While we expect Republican administrations to coddle the thieves of Wall Street, things were supposed to be much different with the Obama administration. He promised to go after those wolves much more forcefully than the previous administration and put an end to illegal activities that enrich the über-wealthy and often threaten the stability of our economy. Instead, we get more of the same despite newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s claim that the penalties are “fitting” and will “deter” future illegality.

Nonsense! Until Justice bans violators from participating in future business activity in those markets in which illegal activity occurred, no bank is properly incented to curb its appetite for illegitimate profits. And until it holds bank executives personally liable for the conduct of their traders, the environment for such illegality will continue to thrive. The Justice Department needs to quit behaving like one of the boys in the Wall Street fraternity. Instead of administering modest slaps on the hand and declaring victory it needs to bare some real teeth and adopt an adversarial posture against those banks who repeatedly commit financial crimes, which means banning banks from future activity in markets where an offense occurs and prosecuting bank executives criminally and requesting lengthy prison terms for those found guilty.

Anything less is just more of the same. And that is very disappointing considering all the fanfare President Obama generated in (rightfully) targeting bank malfeasance.


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