Conflict & Justice

British Based Banks Agree to Historic Settlement to Avoid US Prosecution

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HSBC (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Two British-based banks are going to pay record fines under settlements announced by the US Justice Department.

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The two banks were charged under the US Bank Secrecy Act, and more seriously, under the Trading With the Enemy Act.

HSBC allegedly laundered money, perhaps billions of dollars, for drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.

Both banks reportedly violated US sanctions against nations like Iran.

But there's a catch.

The charges are never going to go to court.

Instead, under the settlements with the US government, the banks will pay a huge fine and the prosecution will be deferred indefinitely.

HSBC is to pay more than $1.9 billion in forfeitures and penalties, and Standard Chartered more than $300 million.

"We accept responsibility for our past mistakes," said HSBC Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, "we have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again."

"It's a sweetheart deal," says Jimmy Gurule, professor of law at Notre Dame.

Gurule is former assistant attorney general of the United States, and at the Treasury was responsible for fighting money-laundering.

"Despite the admission of criminal wrongdoing," says Gurule, "no individual is going to be held accountable for their crimes."

He says this sends the "absolute wrong message."

"The message that's sent here is that if you are going to engage in money laundering for Mexican drug cartels, make sure you're doing it within the scope of your employment working for a bank because if you do, you won't be prosecuted."

Gurule says he doesn't understand why prosecutions weren't brought.

It's what he would have recommended if he was still in office.

"These are big complicated cases… but so what? These are serious violations."