How HSBC hooked up with drug traffickers and terrorists. And got away with it
Rolling Stone magazine
And how some people can manufacture outrage and get away with it.
That's my take on Rolling Stone's treatment of how the US Justice Department mounted another scalp in its trophy case by extorting US$1.9 billion from HSBC.
Take for instance the allegation of "strong evidence" that the bank allowed clients in Cuba, among several other countries, to evade sanctions imposed by the US government.
The fact is that even more than 50 years after a popular uprising overthrew a corrupt gangster regime, the US will still not recognise Cuba.
The reason is a sizeable Cuban refugee population in Florida, a key electoral swing state that will swing against any US presidential candidate who dares suggest recognition.
Thus, because of a quirk of American party politics at its venal worst and a blithe assumption that American sovereignty extends across the entire world, a British bank may not have clients in Cuba. What nonsense.
Similarly, after going to war with Iraq on entirely bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction, American diplomats now shamelessly expect us to take on faith the same retreaded allegations against neighbouring Iran.
Given repeated American offences against Iranian sovereignty and the close proximity of four nuclear powers, it is actually a little difficult to believe Iran's denials of seeing to its defences this way.
But the US military would still find Iran a tougher nut to crack than Iraq and wants the politicians to take out their bile on an easier victim. Aha, here we have HSBC.
Then we get the accusation of HSBC connections with the Saudi Al Rajhi Bank, which, Rolling Stone says, "had been linked by the CIA and other government agencies to terrorism".
But what does "linked to" mean? Terrorism is a serious crime in the US. If US law enforcement agencies have proof that Al Rajhi Bank is a criminal enterprise, why have they brought no criminal charges against it?
And if they do not have the proof, how can they expect a commercial bank with no law enforcement powers to treat as a proven terrorist organisation what the law still treats as innocent of this charge?
The same holds for multiple allegations of money laundering for drug traffickers.
There are plenty of expletives, including the f-word, scattered throughout the Rolling Stone piece, but the one word I was looking for is "convicted" - as in "HSBC did business with a convicted drug trafficker". This word I could not find.
I'm sure it's true that there is a Sinaloa drug-trafficking cartel in Mexico, but where is the blacklist naming specific people and corporate fronts?
It is not a bank's job to put this information together. It is the job of law enforcement agencies, and, from what I can make out, they didn't do that job.
It won't do for them to push the job back on the banks by saying that large cash transactions may constitute money laundering. May or do - which is it in any given case? The teller needs to know, and the question cannot be fudged at the branch level.
Most large transactions are entirely legitimate. That's how modern economies work, even in Mexico.
Nor will it do to say that the banker must know his customers. A big institution cannot know its customers as an individual does. For an institution it is a matter of keeping records of declarations and references. Inevitably some of these will be false.
Shall we then say that no bank may be larger than a self-incorporated personal banker? Tell me that you would ever risk your money in a bank like that.
The way these big scalp-hunting cases work in the US is that the government agency picks its corporate victim (eeny, meeny, miny, moe) and then threatens to bring criminal charges against 10 or 20 senior personnel unless the corporation agrees to the agency's terms.
The corporation invariably caves in. The terms then consist of an extortion payment masquerading as a "fine" and a promise by the victim to say nothing about the case in public.
The agency can thus say whatever it wishes, free of any fear of contradiction.
I think I recognise the hallmarks.