(The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By James Saft
(Reuters) – Now that it is official that the U.S. Justice Department pulls its punches when it comes to prosecuting the largest banks, it is time for investors to understand why they, too, are the losers.
Attorney General Eric Holder came right out this week and told the Senate Judiciary Committee what many observers have long suspected – that his department has refrained from more aggressive criminal prosecutions of the so-called too-big-to-fail banks, exactly because of their special status.
“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that … if we do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” Holder said on Tuesday. “I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”
Lawmakers have expressed surprise that no corporate or personal criminal prosecutions emerged from the HSBC Holdings Plc case, in which the bank was fined $1.9 billion over money laundering, including money from Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.
Justice Department officials also cited economic stability concerns in December when announcing a $1.5 billion fine, but no criminal charges, against UBS AG, in a multiyear scheme to manipulate Libor and other benchmark interest rates.