BusinessBanking & Finance

Who decided failure not an option for US banks?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 4:37am
 

Tom Hanks has a knack for playing the roles that define American generations. In Saving Private Ryan, he embodied the courage of the men who landed on the Normandy beaches under heavy fire. In Apollo 13, he conveyed calm and ingenuity under intense pressure. And Forrest Gump revealed much about America before, during and after the Vietnam War.

If Hanks turns his attention to our most recent decade, which character should he choose? My suggestion is assistant attorney-general Lanny Breuer, the head of the criminal division at the Department of Justice and the man responsible for determining if anyone should be prosecuted for the 2008 financial crisis.

In an interview aired recently, Breuer said some financial institutions were too large and too complex to be held accountable before the law. Bipartisan pressure is now being applied on the department to reveal exactly how this determination was made.

Breuer made the comments for a documentary aired by Frontline. The report asked why no senior Wall Street executive had been prosecuted for apparently well-documented illegal acts, such as authorising document forging, misleading investors and obstructing justice. Breuer was shockingly candid.

"Well, I think I am pursuing justice," he said. "And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators … because if I bring a case against Institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there's some huge economic effect - if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly - it's a factor we need to know and understand."

Attorney-general Eric Holder expressed similar views in the context of discussing why more severe charges were not brought against Zurich-based UBS last year for manipulating the London interbank offered rate.

It's official. The justice department said it loud and clear: no megabank will ever face meaningful prosecution. Very big banks should be broken up immediately. That will not happen. For his next movie, Hanks should focus on the ruin of democracy - aided and abetted by the justice department.

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