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Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo: orkomedix/flickr/cc)

Big Bank 'Crime of the Century' Results in Guess What? No Jail Time for Anyone

Despite severity of offenses, 'the government concluded that these crimes should be punished only through a financial penalty,' says Public Citizen

While corporate watchdogs hailed the record $2.5 billion settlement paid by Deutsche Bank to U.S. and U.K. authorities for its rate-rigging role in the massive LIBOR scandal, some noted that the fine—while large—suggests that some institutions are still considered "too big to jail."

Authorities announced Thursday that Germany's biggest bank would pay $2.5 billion in penalties, a record for cases involving interest rate fraud, which have already targeted banking behemoths like Barclays and UBS. Officials said the wrongdoing at Deutsche Bank lasted from 2005 to 2011 and touched employees in London, Frankfurt, New York, and Tokyo. 

"Surprisingly, despite the severity of these offenses, the government concluded that these crimes should be punished only through a financial penalty." —Bartlett Naylor, Public Citizen

The New York Times reports that Deutsche Bank "also agreed to accept a criminal guilty plea for the British subsidiary at the center of the case. It is the most significant banking unit to accept a criminal plea in the long-running investigation into the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR."

The LIBOR rate is an average of what banks charge for lending to each other. In addition, it sets a benchmark for interest rates for trillions of dollars' worth of loans around the world—from mortgages and student loans to credit cards and complex derivatives.

The penalty follows a seven-year investigation into how some of the world's largest financial institutions secretly conspired to rig benchmark interest rates to their benefit.

But not everyone agrees that the punishment announced Thursday fits what has been called "the crime of the century."

"Law enforcers found repeated examples of manipulation as they investigated the bank," said Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate in Public Citizen's Congress Watch Division, on Thursday.

"For example, they discovered pervasive fraudulent practices where traders gave false information about rates at which they borrowed or loaned money with other banks," he said. "That established false benchmarks on which other rates were based. That harms average Americans when they agree to mortgages. Law enforcers also found that Deutsche Bank withheld and even destroyed information about the investigation. Yet, surprisingly, despite the severity of these offenses, the government concluded that these crimes should be punished only through a financial penalty."

Bartlett continued: "This settlement, which involves no jail time for any traders, seems out of sync with the problems identified. To make matters worse, many of the traders responsible for the frauds remain employed at Deutsche Bank. The DOJ claims that it may still prosecute individuals, and we hope it will pursue such work. To date, some traders at other firms such as Rabobank have been convicted, but no senior officers of any of the banks involved in the LIBOR case have faced charges."

Indeed, as journalist Valentin Schmid points out at Epoch Times, "Insider trading in individual stocks seems minute in comparison, yet many people have been jailed for 10 years or more. Time criminals working for large international banks are given the same treatment."

Writing for the Daily Mail, finance and economics columnist Alex Brummer wondered if the fines and criminal prosecutions, "coming so long after the event, may look like a case of shutting the door long after the horse has bolted."

Brummer continued:

There is no doubt wrongdoing is still going on and has probably moved from the now tightly regulated authorised banking sector to hedge funds, shadow banking organisations and the like.

That is no excuse for cosy backdoor deals with bank sinners. Until the public has seen justice being done, in the shape of the bankers and traders carted off to face trials and retribution, the appalling transgressions of the banking sector will remain an open wound.

Not only should the bankers face long jail sentences, but the ill-gotten assets should be reclaimed by the state as would be the case were they common or garden criminals. The bankers are every bit as culpable of stealing from us all as the much more intriguing Hatton Garden gang.

Still, as the Times reports, "The case spotlighted the collusive elements of Wall Street trading desks, where rival banks have occasionally joined forces to manipulate financial benchmarks. It also foreshadows looming actions against banks suspected of teaming up to manipulate the price of foreign currencies, people briefed on the matter said, with the Justice Department planning to announce guilty pleas from at least four banks—Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland—by next month."


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