Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Methinks I am a prophet new inspired".

John of Gaunt's famous words in Shakespeare's Richard II, Act 2, Scene 1, are a fitting introduction to this edition of my blog.
For many years, I have been writing articles, letters, commentaries and blogs, warning against the criminogenic character of the British High Street Banking Industry. I have given evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee, I have written reports for H.M.Treasury, and I sent detailed evidence to George Osborne before the Coalition was elected, detailing the evidence which clearly demonstrated that the financial sector in this country, and particularly the banks, were riddled with a 'get rich quick at any cost' mentality, and that the private citizen would increasingly get a bad deal, as the level of institutionalised greed and white collar crime proliferated.
In my evidence to Government and the Treasury, I demonstrated how the financial regulators were failing to do their job properly, and how, by their laissez-faire attitude, they were encouraging a culture of criminality to flourish within the financial sector.
With the news this week, first of the wholesale rigging of the LIBOR market by Barclays and other British Banks, criminal activities which have been going on since at least 2005, quickly followed by the news of concerted fraud in the sale of interest rate swaps, the London financial market has plumbed new depths of depravity and outright dishonesty, and downright criminality.
Let us not beat about the bush, these activities are manifestly criminal and are dealt with perfectly adequately within section 2-4 of the Fraud Act 2006. It is disingenuous for the FSA to say that they are dealing with this matter civilly, because there is no specific criminality designed to deal with these facts. This is arrant nonsense and demonstrates the lamentable lack of personal courage and moral fibre that permeates the apparatchiks at the FSA.
They should have run an in tandem investigation together with the SFO, using both civil and criminal powers at the same time. The SFO could quickly have identified the identities of the leading traders who motivated these scams, and then they, together with the relevant executives, up to and including Bob Diamond should have been arrested and brought in for questioning. Diamond was the head of Barclays Capital when this activity was at its height, for God's sake, and he was benefiting hugely from the impact of the illicit profits being made.
This entire sorry mess has been predicated by a wholesale lack of regulatory vigour. The FSA has been allowed to develop a 'Good Chaps' syndrome, a 'safe pair of hands' mentality, meaning that they employed people who would focus on the exact letter of their brief, and who would never step outside the line of enquiry, even though glaring criminal offences were staring them in the face.
This was largely brought about by the policy of 'light touch' regulation, inaugurated by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, when they thought that the City was making money by being left alone. Such tax as was being paid to the Treasury persuaded Brown that the City was doing a fine job.
What this stupid man never realised was that behind the flimsy facade of compliance, the City was doing what all criminal gangs do, making money out of sight and out of mind. They had completely bamboozled the politicos by paying superficial lip service to compliance, thus deflecting criticism of their actions,  while in reality, ignoring the rules entirely.
Banks and financial institutions are like the story of the scorpion who stings and kills the frog carrying him across the river to help save the scorpion's family in their blazing house. In stinging the frog, the scorpion, who cannot swim, knows he too will drown, and as they are swept under the water he cries out, 'I couldn't help it, it's in my nature'.
It is in the nature of banks and financial institutions to cheat and steal from their clients. It's in their cultural DNA. It is perfectly useless for politicians to now demand enquiries into the culture of banking to assess why things have gone so badly wrong. The culture of the financial sector is 'get rich quick', 'get it now', and the devil take the regulations. Bankers despise regulators, they treat them like muppets, and they will do everything in their power to avoid the consequences of bank regulations.
They have an army of apologists in the form of the British Banker's Association, the CBI, the IoD, and assorted MPs and Lords. Old bankers are trotted out to opine that things are not as bad as everyone seems to think, no doubt conscious of their own place in the scheme of things.
High Street banks and bankers are now nothing short of organised criminal enterprises. One NCIS definition states that such crime consists of "... those involved on a continuing basis, normally working with others, in committing crimes for substantial profit or gain...", and Interpol's interpretation is "..Any group having a corporate structure whose objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, often surviving through the use of corruption." Finally a UN definition refers to "...transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals among which are the purposes of engaging in illegal activity, most commonly for monetary profit..."
Any of these definitions fits the actions of Barclays bank and many others perfectly.
Even Lord Turner of the FSA has belatedly woken up to the scandal he has been gaily overseeing  in his Lordly, mandarin-like way! He has said of the banking community;
"...“There is a degree of cynicism and greed that is quite shocking. I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that some of the behaviour and culture evidenced in Libor fixing are not found in some other areas of trading activity as well.”
Well, he should know, (well you would have thought he ought to know). In reality this statement betrays the root of the problem, people like Lord Turner simply never for one minute thought that the nice chaps in suits were really in the same league as Don Corleone, but merely better at it!
That in effect is one of the key indicators within the white-collar conundrum. Regulators are simply not equipped to equate the activities of businessmen with those of ordinary criminals. Edwin Sutherland, the sociologist who first coined the phrase 'white collar crime' once said "...Probably much more important however, is the cultural homogeneity of legislators, judges and regulators with businessmen. Legislators admire and respect businessmen and cannot conceive of them as 'criminals’; businessmen do not conform to the popular stereotype of the 'criminal..."
William Chambliss, one of Sutherland's students said; "…One of the reasons we fail to understand business crime is because we put crime into a category that is separate from normal business. Much crime does not fit into a separate category. It is primarily a business activity...’        
That is what this activity is, it is simply criminal and the only way these people can be dealt with is as the professional criminals they are. We don't need another enquiry, that will just waste important time. We already have the laws with which to deal with these organised criminals and the Government must ensure that they are used, aggressively, if they wish to retain any credibility.
Years ago, when I was a detective, I was sent to the US to study financial regulation. I spent time with the SEC and the CFTC as well as studying with all the major US Exchanges, and I returned a committed admirer of their abilities to regulate their market. When I was leaving to return to London, the Head of Enforcement of the SEC, who had just read the UK White Paper which would become the Financial Services Act 1986,and with which he was deeply unimpressed, said to me;
"...You British seem to believe that the financial market can be regulated by gentlemen in their spare time, in between deals. You assume that everyone who handles someone else's money is a gentleman, and you are shocked and concerned when you find out the converse is true. Here in the US, we assume that anyone who handles another person's money has the propensity to be a thief, and we legislate for the possibility. When you finally take the time and trouble to put in place a system of regulation which will really work, then we'll take you seriously, but until then, don't waste our time..!"
He was right.