London was the capital of the great British empire. As "sophisticated" places go, is right up there, if not at the top, certainly very close to it. Culturally, socially, artistically, financially, and politically, London is a powerhouse. No point in denying it's place in history either, for nearly every one who has been some one has lived, at one time or another, in this most wonderful city. As in any other place, however, the good mix with the bad and the ugly. One only has to take a walk, along Knightsbridge, Mayfair, or Chelsea to witness obscene displays of wealth from people who, most probably, did not sweat for it, but rather stole it from some under-developed country in Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Eastern Europe, China, or Latin America. London is chock full of bankers ever so welcoming to all these thugs, ever so eager to lend their money-laundering expertise in order to take a slice of ill-acquired fortunes.
But I'm digressing. The shock is that I am finding no differences between certain people and institutions in a utterly corrupt country like mine, Venezuela, and the UK. And here is where Standard Chartered slots. We have a saying back home: "lo agarraron cagando y sin papel", which could be translated into "getting caught with your pants down and without toilette paper when you're defecating." Standard Chartered basically was caught in the act. If Benjamin Lawsky, New York superintendent of financial services, is to be believed Standard Chartered has been flaunting Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) prohibitions for nearly a decade. The charges against Standard (SBC) are very damaging:
- falsifying business records;
- offering false instruments for filing;
- failing to maintain accurate books and records of all transactions effected and all actions taken on behalf of SCB;
- obstructing governmental administration;
- failing to report misconduct to the Department in a timely manner;
- evading Federal sanctions;
- and numerous other violations of law that, as with the above, have an impact upon the safety and soundness of SCB’s New York branch and the Department’s confidence in SCB’s character, credibility and fitness as a financial institution licensed to conduct business under the laws of this State.
As consequence, SBC has seen more than $9 billion, or about 16 percent, wiped off its market value. Some people thought, until recently, that SBC was a model financial institution, unlike other banks and bankers, both from the City of London and across the pond, who have been involved in all sorts of scams in the last few years. Barclay's LIBOR scandal, HSBC laundering money for Iran and Mexican drug dealers, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, mind you the bankers are running wild, and, getting away with murder. Nowadays the bankers are all in it together. In the pursuit of profits in a stagnant world economy, that lot will do whatever, wherever with whomever to make a quid. There's no punishment, no arrests, no indictments. Just a few show trials by toothless and clueless bureaucrats, followed by arrangements here and there, between useless regulators and financial crooks caught violating laws, and imposition of fines that, compared to the amounts involved in suspicious trading and transactions, amount to a slap in the wrist.
Places with weak or harmless law enforcers tend to be gangsters' paradises, for the incentive for criminal activity simply outweighs fear of being caught and potential punishment. In some places, the criminals actually run countries. Lybia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, Syria, Iran, being good examples. But the UK is supposed to be an advanced and modern country, governed by law upholding authorities and citizens, a democratic example, with separation of powers and all that. The UK is meant to be different. Alas it isn't, for the thugs that have wreaked havoc in the countries mentioned above, subjecting millions of people to destitute and miserable lives, have friends, collaborators, property, companies, financial institutions and officials aplenty here, dying to do business with them. Ask Tony Blair, or Gordon Brown, or Alex Salmond, or Prince Andrew, or BP, or British Gas... the list is endless.
When SBC's big wigs where alerted of the potential consequences of violating US regulations, the response was: “You fucking Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians.” SBC completely deranged execs -led by Peter Sands who at one time was even mentioned as possible successors of Mervin King for the chairmanship of the Bank of England- obviously believe that the "fucking Americans" do not have the authority to tell them who to do or not do business with. Though the "fucking American" currency was used throughout; the "fucking American" stream of commerce was used throughout; the "fucking American" financial center of New York was used throughout; the "fucking American" financial clearing system was used throughout.
So here's the thing: SBC was caught breaking American law while conducting operations in America. Even if one is to concede to SBC the benefit of the doubt, something which almost no reasonable person seems prepared to do these days in light of the overwhelming precedence of recent financial misdeeds, only USD14 million worth of illegal transactions between the bank and Iran took place, rather than the USD250 billion Lawsky referred to. SBC's claim to innocence is not that it didn't violate OFAC prohibitions in deals with Iran, is that it did so only in transactions worth USD14 million. That's one hell of a moral defence, innit gov?
But just as crooks in Venezuela have nothing to fear from thug-in-chief Chavez, SBC has nothing to fear over here. And that, to me at least, is a shockingly depressing realization. For SBC is, simply put, aiding and abetting criminals that are causing untold suffering the world over. The Brits have developed quite an infamously illustrious track record in that respect in the recent past: whether in Lybia, Kazakhstan or Iran, locals be damned if millions can be made.