July 7, 2014

THE ECONOMIST: BNP Deserved A Clobbering, But Its Treatment Makes The U.S. Legal System Seem Like An Extortion Racket. “America’s system for pursuing errant banks, especially foreign ones, is anything but fair. This case, like most, did not go to court. BNP negotiated a settlement with regulators and prosecutors rather than risk a trial. No doubt the ugliness of its crimes played a role. But even if it had had a better case, BNP would have had little choice but to settle. Defeat in court might have led to the loss of its American banking licence—a death sentence for a big international bank. America’s prosecutors can also wield the threat of criminal charges against individual bankers. Not only were BNP’s tormentors, such as Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s politically ambitious banking regulator, able more or less to dictate their terms, they also had an incentive to make the fine as big as possible because the agencies involved divvied up much of it among themselves. Mr Lawsky’s outfit gets $2 billion, four times its annual budget, which it will triumphantly deposit in New York state’s depleted coffers.”

It does look rather shady.