January 5, 2013
LAST month, HSBC admitted in court pleadings that it had allowed big Mexican and Colombian drug cartels to launder at least $881 million. The bank also admitted to using various schemes to move hundreds of millions of dollars to nations subject to trade sanctions, including Iran, Cuba and Sudan, in violation of the Trading With the Enemy Act. “On at least one occasion,” according to a statement by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, “HSBC instructed a bank in Iran on how to format payment messages so that the transactions would not be blocked or rejected by the United States.”
Those were some of the transgressions uncovered during a two-year investigation led by the Justice and Treasury Departments and acknowledged by HSBC in a settlement, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, that was filed in a federal court in December. Not a single executive was charged with a crime. Instead, the bank paid $1.9 billion in fines and forfeitures — or roughly 10 percent of the pretax profits it earned in just 2010, one of the more than five years during which it admitted to criminal conduct.