By Karl Denninger
Oh, so the banks don’t just bilk investors and rip off municipalities, they also help Mexican Gangs run drugs?
This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.
The admission came in an agreement that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.
That’s nice. Guns and ammunition cost money – lots of it. Getting that money requires some means of transporting it and “laundering” it. For that, we turn to the largest financial institutions in the world, who, it turns out, have never been prosecuted for these felonious acts.
“Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” says Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case.
Blatant disregard? Sounds like something you’d say at a sentencing hearing, right? Well, no….
No big U.S. bank — Wells Fargo included — has ever been indicted for violating the Bank Secrecy Act or any other federal law. Instead, the Justice Department settles criminal charges by using deferred-prosecution agreements, in which a bank pays a fine and promises not to break the law again.
‘No Capacity to Regulate’
Large banks are protected from indictments by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory.
Indicting a big bank could trigger a mad dash by investors to dump shares and cause panic in financial markets, says Jack Blum, a U.S. Senate investigator for 14 years and a consultant to international banks and brokerage firms on money laundering.
The theory is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for big banks, Blum says.
“There’s no capacity to regulate or punish them because they’re too big to be threatened with failure,” Blum says. “They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they’re caught.”
Facilitating drug-running is just one small part of it. There’s also ripping off municipal governments, such as the Jefferson County sewer deal in Alabama. There’s bid-rigging in the GIC market. And, of course, there’s laundering money for violent Mexican drug cartels, who used that money to buy automatic weapons (no, not from America – from China, Venezuela and even from corrupt Mexican law enforcement officials!) with which they then shoot civilians and government officials who refuse to be corrupted.
Oh, and it’s not just Wachovia accused in this story. It’s also Western Union and Bank of America.
Workers in more than 20 Western Union offices allowed the customers to use multiple names, pass fictitious identifications and smudge their fingerprints on documents, investigators say in court records.
“In all the time we did undercover operations, we never once had a bribe turned down,” says Holmes, citing court affidavits.
To make their criminal enterprises work, the drug cartels of Mexico need to move billions of dollars across borders. That’s how they finance the purchase of drugs, planes, weapons and safe houses, Senator Gonzalez says.
“They are multinational businesses, after all,” says Gonzalez, as he slowly loads his revolver at his desk in his Mexico City office. “And they cannot work without a bank.”
And we have a banking system that, in the United States, has insulated itself from having to obey the law or be prosecuted for violating the law by threatening the government.
Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke in 2008, remember? “Tanks in the streets, martial law”?