Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley issued the following statement after the Senate passed his amendment to create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to facilitate the criminal prosecution of U.S. financial institutions that break the law, regardless of size.
"Under our American system of justice – where Lady Justice is blindfolded – there should never be a prosecution-free zone. But that is what our Department of Justice created on Tuesday, December 11. They chose to fine, but not indict or prosecute, HSBC for laundering over $800 million in illicit drug money and $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran, Sudan, Cuba and others. Too big to jail is wrong under our Constitution that promises equality under the law and we must end it."
In December of 2012 British banking giant HSBC agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion settlement after a broad investigation by U.S. federal and state authorities found the bank violated federal laws by laundering money from Mexican drug trafficking and processing banned transactions on behalf of Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma . The settlement, a combination of forfeitures and civil penalties, shows the London-headquartered financial powerhouse for years deliberately channeled hundreds of millions of dollars of the prohibited transactions through its U.S. arm. The settlement, part of a deferred prosecution agreement filed in Brooklyn federal court, means HSBC avoids a criminal conviction on money laundering and other major charges — which could have amounted to a financial death sentence by blocking the bank's access to the U.S. banking system.
The settlement is the latest and largest of several deals U.S. authorities have reached with other banks over similar allegations. Federal and state prosecutors retain legal power to prosecute HSBC if the bank fails to comply with banking and oversight reforms included in the agreement, including the appointment of an independent monitor.