A Wall Street bank accused of laundering money for drug cartels only had to pay a fine. Meanwhile, a man caught with a joint in his pocket had to spend 47 days in jail. For that, journalist Matt Taibbi thinks prosecutors should be "ashamed."
The former Rolling Stone writer -- who recently announced he's leaving the magazine to join an as-yet unnamed publication at First Look Media -- railed against the Department of Justice Monday night for its failure to criminally prosecute HSBC after the bank admitted to laundering billions of dollars.
“They [HSBC] admitted it. They did it,” Taibbi said during an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “If you have a malefactor who is admitting to laundering $850 million for the Mexican drug cartel and he’s not going to jail, you should be ashamed if you’re a prosecutor.”
This isn't news. HSBC agreed back in December 2012 to pay $1.92 billion to settle accusations that it laundered money for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. But the HSBC story is one nugget Taibbi uses to illustrate inequality in the nation's justice system in his new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.
“Nobody’s doing time,” Taibbi said.
A spokeswoman for HSBC did not immediately respond to The Huffington Post's phone call requesting comment.
The day the settlement was announced, Taibbi said he went down to a Manhattan courthouse and asked "what's the dumbest drug case that you had today?"
"They found a guy for me who'd been caught walking in the street with a joint in his pocket -- he got 47 days in Rikers," Taibbi recalled Monday night, referring to New York City's main prison complex, Rikers Island. "That's worse than anything that happened to anyone at HSBC, and they're at the top of the illegal drugs pyramid."
Taibbi previously skewered Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general responsible for the 2012 settlement, in an essay in Rolling Stone, juxtaposing the treatment of the bankers with that of someone arrested and jailed for marijuana possession.
To boot, the settlement didn't seem to teach the bank much.
Last year, HSBC agreed to a settlement with the Treasury Department for transferring funds on behalf of financiers for the militant group Hezbollah.
Alexander C. Kaufman
April 8, 2014