Hardly a day goes by without the revelation, somewhere in the world, of widespread fraud or illegal behaviour one or other large corporation. In the process often billions of dollars are written off. In other instances, we only learn of the misdeeds after the government and the offender have agreed on a suitable monetary penalty - often too, going into billions or millions of dollars.
Naomi Klein takes up the issue in a piece in The Guardian:
Last fall, I argued that the violent reaction to Occupy and other protests around the world had to do with the 1%ers' fear of the rank and file exposing massive fraud if they ever managed get their hands on the books. At that time, I had no evidence of this motivation beyond the fact that financial system reform and increased transparency were at the top of many protesters' list of demands.
But this week presents a sick-making trove of new data that abundantly fills in this hypothesis and confirms this picture. The notion that the entire global financial system is riddled with systemic fraud – and that key players in the gatekeeper roles, both in finance and in government, including regulatory bodies, know it and choose to quietly sustain this reality – is one that would have only recently seemed like the frenzied hypothesis of tinhat-wearers, but this week's headlines make such a conclusion, sadly, inevitable.
The New York Times business section on 12 July shows multiple exposes of systemic fraud throughout banks: banks colluding with other banks in manipulation of interest rates, regulators aware of systemic fraud, and key government officials (at least one banker who became the most key government official) aware of it and colluding as well. Fraud in banks has been understood conventionally and, I would say, messaged as a glitch. As in London Mayor Boris Johnson's full-throated defense of Barclay's leadership last week, bank fraud is portrayed as a case, when it surfaces, of a few "bad apples" gone astray.
In the New York Times business section, we read that the HSBC banking group is being fined up to $1bn, for not preventing money-laundering (a highly profitable activity not to prevent) between 2004 and 2010 – a six years' long "oops". In another article that day, Republican Senator Charles Grassley says of the financial group Peregrine capital: "This is a company that is on top of things." The article goes onto explain that at Peregrine Financial, "regulators discovered about $215m in customer money was missing." Its founder now faces criminal charges. Later, the article mentions that this revelation comes a few months after MF Global "lost" more than $1bn in clients' money.
What is weird is how these reports so consistently describe the activity that led to all this vanishing cash as simple bumbling: "regulators missed the red flag for years." They note that a Peregrine client alerted the firm's primary regulator in 2004 and another raised issues with the regulator five years later – yet "signs of trouble seemingly missed for years", muses the Times headline.