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Inside Story Americas

Are US banks untouchable?

We ask why no charges have been brought against US banking institutions for their part in the global financial crisis.

Last Modified: 25 May 2013 14:11
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US justice department officials have revealed that they never had any evidence that bringing criminal charges against financial institutions would harm the country's economy, despite claims to the contrary.

So why have US banks escaped prosecution?

The prosecutors and the corporate defence attorneys said we need to look at the collateral consequences ... the academics, the public-interest types, [and] most of the reporters understood what was going on - that this was a special deal, that we have a two tier justice system: one for big corporations and one for individuals.

 Russel Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter

Despite extensive investigations into the conduct of major financial institutions by the US government since the 2008 financial crisis, no criminal charges have ever been filed. Statements by key justice department officials have strongly suggested that a major factor in their decision not to prosecute is their fear of a negative impact on the economy. 

Lanny Breuer, the former assistant attorney general, in a speech to the New York Bar association last year, said: "I personally feel that it is my duty to consider whether individual employees with no responsibility for, or knowledge of, misconduct committed by others in the same company are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation.

"In large multinational companies the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can literally be at stake."

Those sentiments were echoed by Attorney General Eric Holder when he spoke to the US Senate in March: "I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."

He has since backtracked on that statement, and on Wednesday a senior justice official testifying before the House financial services committee revealed that the department had no evidence that such a prosecution would harm the economy, nor was any research sought to gauge any potential negative consequences.

So, what is behind the Department of Justice's reluctance to act?

On Inside Story Americas,
Shihab Rattansi discusses the issue with guests: Russel Mokhiber, the editor of Corporate Crime Reporter; and Bartlett Naylor, the financial policy advocate at Public Citizen, and a former chief of investigations for the US Senate Banking Committee. 

"I think Attorney General Eric Holder was accurate when he said 'We could not bring the full suite of penalties versus this bank because it was too large' - there is an answer to that - we can't afford to have banks that are this large."

- Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate at Public Citizen

Freezing out Venezuela's Maduro

More than a month after the Venezuelan elections, why does the US still refuse to recognise Nicolas Maduro as the elected president?

The New York Times is one of the chief offenders when it comes to Latin American affairs .... The continent has been badly covered -badly covered - and [with] inconsistent [reporting] and double standards from the elections in Mexico to the coup in Honduras.

Oliver Stone, US film director and philanthropist

Maduro won the presidential election last month, but the Obama administration has yet to recognise him as the president of the country. Maduro won by a narrow margin, and his victory is being contested by the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. 

Every country in Latin America has recognised the election result and critics are asking whether the US position is designed to encourage the opposition to continue its challenge.

It is the latest sign of Washington's poor relationship with Venezuela's current and former government - a relationship that some contend colours the reporting of Venezuelan politics in the US media.

More than 1,000 people, including leading intellectuals and filmmakers, have signed a petition calling on the New York Times to investigate its reporting on Venezuela for bias, specifically for the repeated characterisation of the late Hugo Chavez as a dictator.

In this episode, we speak to one of the signatories of the petition, US film director Oliver Stone, about what he hopes this petition will accomplish.

Joining
Shihab Rattansi to discuss the issue further, are Gregory Wilpert, the editor of VenezuelaAnalysis.com; and Keane Bhatt, a media accountability activist focusing on the US media’s portrayal of Latin America.

The New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, was invited to participate, but she refused. The US state department also declined to take participate in the discussion.

"I think the US government is basically trying to encourage the opposition to challenge and keep the levels of tensions in Venezuela high in the hopes that Maduro would leave office sooner rather than later."

- Gregory Wilpert, the editor of VenezuelaAnalysis.com

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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