14 March 2016

Speaking of Unprosecuted Banksters

It turns out that former Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: (FCIC)
In late 2010, in the waning months of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the panel responsible for determining who and what caused the financial meltdown that lead to the worst recession in decades voted to refer Robert Rubin to the Department of Justice for investigation. The panel stated it believed Rubin, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary who has held top roles at Goldman Sachs gs and later Citigroup c , “may have violated the laws of the United States in relation to the financial crisis.” Rubin, the commission alleged, along with some other members of Citi’s top management, may have been “culpable” for misleading Citi’s investors and the market by hiding the extent of the bank’s subprime exposure, stating at one point that it was 76% lower than what it actually was.

No government action was ever brought against Rubin. And there is no evidence that Department of Justice acted on the crisis commission’s recommendations. A source close to Rubin says the former Wall Street executive was never contacted by the Justice Department in relation to the commission’s allegations. Nonetheless, the fact that Rubin was among a relatively small group of top bankers who the crisis commission referred to the Justice Department for potential wrong-doing, and the fact that is appears nothing happened, sheds new light on the financial crisis, and the government’s effort to pursue those who may have broken the law.

Seven years after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the fact that no major Wall Street figure was ever prosecuted for crimes related to the financial crisis remains an sticking point for many. It is regularly brought up by presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. When the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released its 662-page report nearly five years ago, members of the commission said they had formerly referred evidence of possible misconduct of a number of individuals to the Department of Justice. But it declined to say who. Brooksley Born, a member of the commission and a former regulator, said at the time, “Our mandate was to refer to the attorney general any individual that our investigation found may have violated US laws. We did make several such referrals, but we are not going to talk about any of those.”


In the run up to the financial crisis, Citigroup aggressively expanded into the mortgage market and subprime lending. Despite warnings that a bubble was forming in housing and that lending standards had gotten to loose, CEO Prince in mid-2007 famously told the Financial Times that as long as the music is still going he would keep dancing. Rubin at the time was the chairman of the executive committee of Citi’s board. Rubin reportedly blessed the increased risk taking at Citi in the mid-2000s.

By late summer 2007, Citi’s direct exposure to subprime bonds was $55 billion, according to the crisis commission. The staff notes of the commission say that “based on FCIC interviews and documents obtained during our investigation, it is clear that CEO Chuck Prince and Robert Rubin . . . knew this information.” It says the two top officials were made aware of the extent of Citi’s exposure “no later than September 9, 2007.”

Yet, according to the commission, on October 15, Citi executives told analysts on a call that the bank’s total exposure to subprime was just $13 billion, or 76% less than it actually was. Two weeks later as pressure began to build on Citi, and values in the mortgage market fell, Citi told the market that its actual subprime exposure was $55 billion, and that its losses from mortgage-related assets could already be as big as $11 billion. Prince also announced he was resigning.

The staff notes say that “the representations made in the October 15, 2007 analysts call appear to have violated SEC Rule 10b-5,” and that Prince and Rubin, along with “members of the board” may have been “culpable” for “failing to disclose” the bank’s true subprime exposure.
Rubin should have gone to jail, and he should have been banned from the finance industry for life.

Rubin isn't alone in this.

This wasn't just some sort of black swan.  It was aggressive, deliberate, and systemic fraud, but there were no prosecutions.

To mind, this comes down to crass tribalism, where the regulators, and prosecutors, were, or were managed by, people who went to the same schools, and started their careers at the same firms, and so there are no prosecutions.

It's why we are seeing the rise of populism on the right and left right now.

The corrupt elites maintained their grip on power, and so we are likely to see another financial crack-up.


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