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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Innocent 'til Jon Snow decides otherwise?

Veteran Channel 4 newsborg Jon Snow blogs on the eeeevil bankers, and specifically asks why they haven't been arrested, and by extension I imagine charged, tried, found guilty, purged, flayed, subjected to the Pear of Anguish and possibly also the Banana of Discomfort and the whole Fruit Salad of Much Inconvenience, and finally hung, drawn, quartered and buried in five limed graves each. But that may just be the impression I get.

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The publication of the Vickers report into British banking reform sparks the question why the UK has so far failed to prosecute a single individual for his or her misdeeds during the financial meltdown of 2008.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that maybe no actual crime has been committed. Negligence, probably yes. Gross stupidity, almost indubitably. Financial irresponsibility and incompetence of such breathtaking degree that it's comparable with what some governments spunk away every week, for sure. And some of that may be tortious, but is there evidence that an actual offence has been committed and is there enough of it to make a successful prosecution likely? Because if the answer to both is no, Jon, there's your reason why.
We were told at the time that the banking regulator, the FSA, had started a ‘major investigation’. Last night on Channel 4 News when I pressed the City Minister, Mark Hoban, he referred constantly to the FSA’s involvement. But where is the Serious Fraud Office? No sign of much happening on that front.
Well, Jon, do you have evidence of a serious fraud? And if so have you brought it to the attention of the SFO? Because if not have you considered the possibility that they looked and didn't actually find one?
Yet investigators on both sides of the Atlantic have had no doubt that criminality, subterfuge, and downright dishonesty accompanied many of the ingredients that brought about the crash.
"No doubt of criminality"? Well, many people are in no doubt that a damn sight more parliamentarians were feeding of the taxpayers' backs via dodgy expenses claims than the half dozen or so who've been found guilty and gaoled, and that far more than that deserved to have gone to prison in disgrace - possibly even some who didn't even have the decency to stand down as MPs and have, thanks to seats in which tribal electorates would vote in a priapic chimpanzee if it was eating the appropriate colour rosette, even kept their seats - but lacking doubt is still meaningless if you also lack evidence. I don't think that varies much on either side of the Atlantic.
The convenient fall-guy was the Ponzi magician, Bernie Madoff who was quickly jailed for thieving billions with his criminal scheme.
Quite irrelevant and only a fall guy in the minds of those who don't understand that he had square root of bugger all to do with it, which is something Jon Snow brings up himself in the very next sentence.
But Madoff had nothing to do with bringing down the banks.
So why fucking mention him then? You might as well bring up Dick Turpin.
But his jailing served to suggest that a high profile scalp had been secured.
As I said, only in the minds of people credulous enough to think he had anything to do with it. His was a genuine fraud that had been going on for years, possibly since the 70s, and he could as easily have been caught, convicted and forgotten before the GFC began. About eight years before if the US authorities had listened to a guy named Harry Markopolos, who in 1999 realised that Madoff's numbers didn't add up after looking at them for about five minutes and reckoned he knew it was fraud four hours later. And incidentally, a fraud that's not all that unlike National Insurance Contributions in that all the money coming in was going straight out to pay earlier 'investors', the quotes being necessary because little money and possibly not a single cent was ever actually invested. This is, of course, quite illegal when it's not governments doing it, and if you don't believe me try setting up a health insurance and pension scheme on exactly the same business model as NICs and see what it gets you. About 150 years if Bernie Madoff's case is any guide.

Anyway, the point is that Madoff's Ponzi scheme could not only have been stopped earlier had the SEC heeded Markopolos' regular warnings from 1999 rather than ignored them until it imploded of it's own accord, but was also as incidental to the GFC as the Enron scandal. It happened at around the same time, and that's about it. In fact far from contributing to the GFC the effects of the GFC made it harder for Madoff to keep all those plates spinning and probably brought about an early end to the scam. If, as Jon Snow says, Madoff's arrest and imprisonment suggested a high profile scalp had been collected then it was because the media failed in their duty to make it crystal clear what the significance actually was, i.e. none at all.
Last year, the then New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo produced a laundry list of institutions and individuals who were being investigated for potential prosecution. That work too has slowed.
Slowed, Jon, or just uncovered too little evidence of any actual indictable offences? You're the journo - why don't you go find out which?
In one month, hundreds of rioters and looters have been prosecuted and punished by the English courts, often for offences with a value of under fifty pounds. Yet the threat to the wellbeing of UKplc was far greater from the bankers than from any number of more arrestable rioters.
Yes, but as I've mentioned once or twice, stupidity, negligence and incompetence are not necessarily crimes. Rioting and looting, on the other hand, most definitely are. If you can't find an actual offence and make a case then nobody goes to prison, see? And if you believe that every single looter and rioter will be punished you're dreaming, because again they'll have got only the ones with good evidence against them.
There is a strong impression abroad that the UK doesn’t want to prosecute anyone for the banking crisis, a crisis that has affected every tax payer in the Kingdom.
Look, the only reason it's affected every taxpayer is because the Prime Mentalist of the day bailed the bastards out with taxpayers' money. Had the meddling prick been able to restrain his urge to interfere the bad banks would have failed, affecting just staff, shareholders and people with money in them (less the compensation of up to £30K or so each account holder would have got from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme). Instead him and his badger faced sock puppet tried to fill in the holes with taxpayers' money - that was their decision and nobody else's. Yes, the banks came and begged to be bailed out, but Brown and Darling could and should have said no.
Soon enough the statute of limitations will kick in to ensure that no-one will ever be prosecuted for their role.
Oh, yes, that'll be that famous statute of limitations that Asil Nadir so successfully used to avoid prosecution by kicking back in Cyprus for 17 years until he was untoucha... no, wait, actually the SFO arrested him as soon as he got off the plane, didn't they? Still, Jon, how were you supposed to know about that? Apart from the fact you fucking reported on it on Channel Four news.

So tell us, Jon, precisely what statute of limitations are you talking about? I'm no lawyer so I'm willing to be corrected on this, but I was under the impression that the UK doesn't actually have a statute of limitations. Not for criminal offences anyway, though as I keep saying, Jon Snow has mentioned precisely zero offences that have definitely been committed and a total of absolutely none laws that have been broken. But if it turns out otherwise, Jon, well, 17 years wasn't long enough to protect Asil Nadir from arrest so you're probably complaining about it just a smidgeon early.

However, there are time limitations on bringing a civil cases, and while I keep repeating that stupidity, negligence and incompetence aren't generally crimes they may of course be tortious, and if that's so then there is a ticking clock against which anyone who's suffered a financial loss because of those overconfident cocksockets who bought up all those toxic assets without looking sufficiently carefully at what it actually was they were getting can sue the bastards. Not sure if it's possible to sue someone into prison, as the oh so self-righteous Snow seems to wish, but for all my defence of them against Snow's tirade I'm no fan of the likes of Fred the Shred - if I recall I called him a smarmy arsehole and expressed hope that he'd fall down the stairs and land, against all probability, on his balls - and would happily see them sued for every penny they've got. Which, when I wrote that, Fred Goodwin was, even if it was for the unusual offence of hubris and in an American court "where the courts are more flexible and less expensive" rather than a British one, making any limitations in Britain rather irrelevant.

But Jon Snow's still not happy, and like that mad caretaker out of Harry Potter, shambling around screaming about his cat, he clearly wants to see some punishment.
Then we can all breathe easy – no banker will ever go to jail, and we can stop asking the nightly question, ‘why not?’
Because, Jon, as I keep explaining and as much as it pains me, you can't send someone to jail unless you can actually prove they've committed a crime. It's this thing we have in civilised countries called 'the law', and the idea is that 'the law' is extra extra careful about things like evidence and proving the case so as not to send innocent people off to prison all the time. It's not that way to protect the world's Fred Goodwins, it's to protect you and me all the rest of us. Jon Snow is coming across a bit like Thomas More's wife and son-in-law in A Man for All Seasons.

Arrest them.
They're eeevil bankers who are greedy, stupid and negligent.
There's no law against that.
So now you'd give the bankers the benefit of law?
Yes. What would you do?
Cut a great road through the
law to get after the bankers?
And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast -- man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it  -- do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
A twenty-first century More might have put it like this: "If you're so keen to bang people up that you're prepared to shortcut things, Roper, then we're all in fucking trouble."
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