LEGAL IMMUNITY

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The most powerful CEOs are above the reach of the law and beyond its effective enforcement.

Extensive evidence of Wall Street’s critical involvement in the financial crisis notwithstanding, not a single senior Wall Street executive has lost his job, and pay levels have been rigorously maintained even when, as noted earlier, TARP payments had to be refinanced in order to remove any possible restrictions.

While several financial firms have paid civil penalties for their abuses, the amounts involved bear little relation to the malfeasance. US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff recently — and rightly — rejected the $285-million settlement agreed to between Citigroup Inc. and the Securities and Exchange Commission as “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, not in the public interest.”

Worse, such fines as have been imposed on the financial industry are basically being paid by the government itself. At the same time that various regulatory agencies boast of record setting penalties assessed against banks, the Federal Reserve pays banks interest on money that is not being lent, resulting in an “interest margin” realized by U.S. banks in the first six months of this year of $13 billion — more than ample funding for any penalties suffered.