|[Photo of HSBC's London Headquarters from wikipedia]|
Although I am a former federal prosecutor, (and also, currently, an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I have also taught criminal justice courses part-time at a local university. One of the topics which we recently discussed in my course about White Collar Crime dealt with whether or not some white collar corporate defendants in some cases can unfairly avoid criminal liability -- for the corporation and/or its officers -- by simply paying a fine. In other words, do some white collar criminals get away with fraud and corruption with just a slap on the wrist in the form of a monetary penalty?
Have you read about the case involving HSBC, one of the world's largest banking companies, which is headquartered in Great Britain? According to various news reports, HSBC has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly laundering or transferring funds from Mexican drug cartels and for allegedly transferring funds to benefit Iran, in alleged violations of various sanctions. While everyone is entitled to their day in court, and while everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, these are some pretty serious allegations, don't you agree?
Today, according to various news reports, HSBC is reportedly entering into a "deferred prosecution agreement" with the U.S. Department of Justice, whereby prosecution of HSBC and its executives will apparently be deferred, or avoided, and HSBC will simply pay a whopping $1.9 billion penalty.
Look, let's be fair: no one here is saying that any particular individuals in that situation should be prosecuted. We do not know all the facts. And no one should be judged based upon some news reports. And no one can fairly claim that $1.9 billion is merely a slap on the corporate wrist.
But the question still remains, as we discussed in my college class: Generally, do you believe that, in some criminal cases, (without focusing on that one), some corporations and corporate executives can avoid jail time by simply paying their way out of problems? Are there different standards or considerations in white collar crime, as opposed to street crime? What is your opinion?