The exposure of HSBC, significantly by the US, as having engaged in massive money-laundering for years on behalf of Mexican drug cartels, terrorists and pariah states like Iran and Syria has become a test case of how the authorities deal with big-time criminality by the economic elite. The damning report by the US Senate sub-committee of the “pervasively polluted” culture at HSBC covers the period 2004-10 when Stephen Green was chief executive (2003-6) and then chairman (2006-10). Green, a former Anglican priest who sought to balance God and Mammon, but erred 99.9% closer to the latter than the former, later became and is still now Trade Minister in Cameron’s government. Green has form. He was chairman of the British Bankers’ Association during the LIBOR-rigging scandal, in which role he publicly dismissed claims that there might be something wrong and waved on business as usual – rather like the pardoner in Chaucer’s tales.
Why has he not been arrested? If Hans Rausing is arrested on the charge that he prevented the lawful and decent burial of his wife, it’s difficult to see how having presided over the criminal laundering of billions of drug cartel and terrorist dollars does not merit at least an opening dialogue at Paddington police station, as Rebekah Brooks was invited to, in order to establish the facts and formulate the necessary charges. Maybe it makes a difference that he is seen as a ‘respected banking figure’ (City jargon for a successful crook) and even as the next Governor of the Bank of England. It obviously takes one to recognise one.
Three things should now happen, smartly. First, Green should be made to stand down immediately from his ministerial post, put under caution, and questioned at length about both his involvement with money-laundering and LIBOR-rigging. Second, a major SFO inquiry should be launched into both these scandals since the parliamentary inquiry into the latter (as usual picked to ensure no real fuss is caused) doesn’t begin to carry the clout of a potentially criminal inquiry. Third, the Commons Select Committee system should be greatly strengthened by funding in-depth investigations on the scale of the US Senate sub-committees. And fourth, it should be made clear by the government (and when they won’t, Miliband should) that any senior bank executive found guilty of serious criminal offences can expect 10-15 years in prison. Green, and possibly Diamond, would be a good place to start.