A Senate committee has found that lax oversight at one of the world's biggest banks allowed terrorists and drug cartels to launder billions of dollars of illegal funds through its U.S. branches. Executives from HSBC are being called to testify before Congress today to answer questions about how it appears to have ignored warnings and flouted regulations to allow illicit organizations a "gateway" into the U.S. banking system.
For example, the bank designated Mexico as a "low-risk" country despite warnings from law enforcement that drug cartels were using banks there to send illegal money out of the country. Yet, HSBC affiliates in Mexico funneled billions of dollars to the bank's U.S. branches, far more than any other Mexican bank could. HSBC also provided services to a Saudi Arabian bank that had previously been linked to terrorism financing, as well moving moved that was considered "questionable" from the Cayman Islands and Iran, which is under heavy U.S. sanction.
Executives say they plan to apologize to Congress and will fix their mistakes. There have been no formal criminal accusations or charges made yet, but the Justice Department says it is still investigating the matter. At the very least, there could be regulatory fines or civil settlements that could reach as high as $1 billion, according to CNBC. HSBC is the second largest bank in the world in terms of assets, with affiliate branches all over the globe, yet the stock price has barely nudged on this latest news. Perhaps after the Barclay's LIBOR scandal and the JPMorgan "whale" and the Spanish bailout and the Greece debacle and every other rolling disaster in the financial industry, there just too much bank fatigue out there for anyone to get excited about.