The Iranian Model
Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, an Iranian billionaire businessman at the heart of a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, was executed Saturday, Iranian state television reported.
Authorities put the swindler to death after Iran’s Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. The fraud involved using forged documents to get credit at one of Iran’s top financial institutions, Bank Saderat, to purchase assets including state-owned companies.
A total of 39 defendants were convicted in the case. Four received death sentences, two got life sentences and the rest received sentences of up to 25 years in prison.
That’d be one way to enforce financial laws and protect against wealthy people misusing the system for their own personal gain, never mind the consequences for the greater society. Here’s another way.
The American Way
How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the crushing U.S. financial crisis of 2008?
The Department of Justice doesn’t know. That’s because the Department doesn’t keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response to a March request from Senator Charles Grassley, the Justice Department said it doesn’t hold information on defendants’ business titles. “Consequently, we are unable to generate the comprehensive list of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown.”
Quick aside: The Department of Justice not only keeps exact track of the number of terrorists it prosecutes, it lists them in detail on a publically available “fact sheet” on its web site. No need for a Senator to even ask.
Not a Big Number
Back to America’s financial “terrorists.” C’mon, really, how many were prosecuted? “It’s not a big number to count, that’s for sure,” said Chris Swecker, who ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal division from 2004 to 2006. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the numbers of financial-fraud cases being brought has increased since the crisis, though it is of course unclear how she could know that since apparently no one at DOJ keeps a count. “I can tell you why you wouldn’t keep the data,” William Black, a former bank regulator, said. “Because it would be really embarrassing.”
Still, credit where credit is due (get it?). DOJ did prosecute one known case of alleged wrongdoing directly related to the financial crisis: criminal charges filed against all of three former Credit Suisse employees for allegedly inflating mortgage-bond values and tax evasion. Credit Suisse is of course not an American company. Nobody went to jail or was executed, but the company did pay a hefty fine. Even then, the Credit Suisse prosecutors were instructed to consult the Federal Reserve about the potential fallout from the case.
More prosecutions to follow? Maybe not. Head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder said he understands “the public desire to, as one pundit put it, ’see the handcuffs come to Wall Street.’ We’ve found that much of the conduct that led to the financial crisis was unethical and irresponsible. But we also have discovered that some of this behavior, while morally reprehensible, may not necessarily have been criminal.”
OK, It’s Zero
While the Department of Justice can’t seem to figure out how many prosecutions it has pursued following the financial crisis of 2008, Reuters can. They report “In the United States, home to Lehman Brothers, no top executives at large Wall Street or commercial banks have been convicted of criminal charges relating to the 2008 crisis.”
Why is that? Reuters also knows that. Basically it is just so gosh darn hard to do. “At issue is the difficulty in pinning the blame on any one person for risks and decisions taken throughout a firm – one of the main obstacles to building such cases so far. ‘It’s a case of the confused lines of responsibility and accountability,’ said Judith Seddon, director in law firm Clifford Chance’s business crime and regulatory enforcement unit in London. ‘When you’re pursuing an individual, if they’ve delegated responsibilities… it’s much more difficult in a big organization.'” They add: “U.S. regulators’ approach since the crisis has reflected some of these challenges.”
Execute the Rich
So, for those keeping track of these things where the Department of Justice is not, here’s a quick tally from the crisis of 2008:
Credit Suisse: Three people prosecuted, company paid a fine.
Bank of America: No officers prosecuted.
Bear Stearns: No senior officers prosecuted.
Citigroup: No officers prosecuted.
Goldman Sachs: No senior officers prosecuted.
J.P. Morgan Securities: No officers prosecuted.
UBS Securities: No officers prosecuted.
Wachovia Capital Markets: No officers prosecuted.
Wells Fargo: No senior officers prosecuted.
We’ll give this round on points to the Iranians.
(No bankers were harmed in writing this blog post)
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!