Chatter: HSBC hit with record fine for money-laundering




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Need to know:
British banking giant HSBC has reached a settlement with US authorities over alleged money-laundering, and it's a whopper.

The firm will pay $1.92 billion in penalties – the most any bank has ever paid in this kind of case, ever. It comes five months after a Senate investigation called HSBC's culture "pervasively polluted," concluding that for years it had moved billions of dollars around the global financial system on behalf of terrorists, drug barons and rogue states.

HSBC said today it was "profoundly sorry" for failing to comply with US controls. That eye-watering fine, plus the $290 million spent on toughening anti-laundering measures, is enough to make anyone repent.

Want to know:
Nelson Mandela has a lung infection, the South African government has announced.

Mandela has been in hospital since Saturday, officially for routine tests. Those tests have now confirmed that a previous chest infection, for which he was hospitalized in January 2011, has recurred.

President Jacob Zuma's office says Mandela is responding to treatment. But his wife, Graca Machel, says that her husband – now 94 and only rarely glimpsed in public – has, inevitably, seen his "spirit and sparkle" fade.

Get well soon, Mandela. The entire world hopes you do.

Dull but important:
Cairo is braced for rival protests today, as Egyptians show themselves for or against the upcoming constitutional referendum.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood and a number of opposition groups have each called for massive demonstrations in the capital. The former says the vote must go ahead as planned, this Saturday; the latter say it must be called off until there's a better draft constitution on the table.

Their demos haven't begun well. Early this morning there were reports of masked attackers firing guns and throwing firebombs at opposition protesters camped out in Tahrir Square; nine people are said to have been injured. If the rival rallies cross paths once they're in full swing, things can only get far, far worse.

Just because:
What's orange, Italian and keeps coming back?

Unfortunately for, oh, just the future stability of Europe, it's not a joke; it's Silvio Berlusconi. Within 48 hours of the ex-prime minister announcing he planned to run again – not because he wants to, you understand, but only because Italy needs him so – Italy's interim PM had vowed to step down, a snap election was imminent, and European markets were in turmoil.

GlobalPost's Paul Ames reports on why even the threat of a Berlusconi comeback is enough to send a chill across Europe.

Strange but true:
Hey you, with the nihilism: better start planning for more than 10 days left on earth, because it turns out the world ending on Dec. 21 was all just hippie nonsense.

A British academic has traced the old Mayan apocalypse rumor to a bunch of New Age authors in the 1970s, who freely admit they were tripping on mushrooms at the time. They essentially plucked the date out of the (possibly psychedelic) air and just kept citing each other's figures until they became accepted as some sort of prophecy, says social studies professor Andrew Wilson.

But then, of course, he would say that: his paper on the topic comes out in, ahem, April 2013.