Occupy Heavily Monitored for Potential Criminal Activity, HSBC Slapped on the Wrist for Actual Criminal Activity
Apparently non-violent demonstration against corrupt banking is subject to more criminal scrutiny than actual corrupt banking.
Documents released by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Saturday show that the FBI identified Occupy Wall Street as a "potential criminal and terrorist" threat as early as a month before the OWS movement burst on the international scene with its initial occupation of Zuccotti Park in September 2011.
"These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity," Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of PCJF, said in a release . "These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America."
The release of the documents comes a few weeks after federal and state authorities, including the Department of Justice and the New York East District Attorney's Office, announced a $1.9 billion settlement agreements with British-based bank, HSBC, for allowing major drug cartels and entities with economic sanctions and terrorist ties to launder money through the bank.
"HSBC's blatant failure to implement proper anti-money laundering controls facilitated the laundering of at least $881 million in drug proceeds through the U.S. financial system," New York U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a release. "HSBC's willful flouting of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in [Office of Foreign Assets Control]-prohibited transactions."
For more than a decade, HSBC's U.S. subsidiary, HSBC Bank USA, knowingly allowed money transactions coming from sanctioned countries such as Iran, Sudan and Libya. And, banking officials at HSBC knowingly altered documents to prevent them from being red-flagged.
A report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Investigations reveals that, at least as far back as 2006, HBUS allowed major drug-trafficking cartels, such as the infamous Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico, to funnel nearly $900 million in drug revenues through the bank.
HSBC engaged in money laundering schemes dating back to the 1990s but weren't hit with any type of punishment for those schemes until earlier this month. OWS moved to speak out against that very type of corruption and were hounded by federal authorities before the movement was even launched.
The FBI actually went as far as to meet with officials at the New York Stock Exchange in August of 2011 to warn of the impending demonstration, according to the PCJF-obtained documents. Yet with the settlement reached, no one at HSBC will be criminally prosecuted for years of blatantly illegal practices involving billions of dollars.
Officials close to the investigation of HSBC told the New York Times that they ultimately decided not to prosecute the bank because it was essentially too big to fail. Lawrence White, a professor of economics at New York University, acknowledges that the $1.9 billion fine certainly won't do major damage to HSBC, but believes that it is effective.
"HSBC is a big bank with literally trillions of dollars of assets. So, a penalty $1.9 billion it doesn't cripple the bank but it stings. Nobody likes to write a check that has ten digits," White told the Voice after the fine was announced. "It gets everybody's attention. It certainly will focus the attention of HSBC. It will certainly focus the attention of other similarly situated banks."
A member of the Occupy movement, who goes under the pseudonym Goldi Locks and is currently involved in the volunteer efforts of Occupy Sandy, believes the fine is merely a slap on the wrist.
"The fact that there is no criminal sort of prosecution is surprisingly on one level but not surprising on another... The banking industry is completely lawless - something we've been saying all along," Goldi said. "These banks can do whatever they want with impunity. To level what for them is a small fine, even though it's large in the history of fines, it's just absurd."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.
- Meet the Woman Who Uses Cosplay and Comic Cons to Lift the Spirits of Sick Children
- Here Are Ten (Or So) Graphic Novels to Watch Out For at NYCC
- The Man Behind 'Modern Seinfeld,' Focuses on His Own Neuroses in New Book