An HSBC bank branch March 2, 2009 in San Francisco, California.
An HSBC bank branch March 2, 2009 in San Francisco, California. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

The British bank HSBC is to pay almost $2 billion to U.S. authorities to settle a case over money-laundering and  sanctions busting.

The penalty is the biggest in the history of U.S. banking regulation.

The offenses were fairly blatant; this was not sophisticated chicanery like interest-rate rigging. HSBC admitted money-laundering on a heroic scale: funneling billions of dollars of dirty cash from Mexican drug cartels into the U.S., dealing with terrorists, and doing business with rogue states like Iran.

The penalty the bank’s paying is undeniably large. But it amounts to only 10 percent of HSBC’s annual profit.

Money-laundering expert and best-selling author Jeffrey Robinson is not impressed. “For a bank it’s simply the cost of doing business," he says. “Unless you throw bankers in jail, and you put them in orange jump suits and you lock them away for a while, it will continue."

HSBC  said it was profoundly sorry for what it called “our past mistakes." One senior executive has resigned, some bonuses have been clawed back, and the bank is spending a quarter of billion dollars lightening up its controls.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.