Nation & World Briefs 12-12-12 U.S. cites cooperation of HSBC in $1.9 billion fine on British bank

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NEW YORK -- American authorities on Tuesday cited "astonishing" dysfunction at the British bank HSBC and said that it had helped Mexican drug traffickers, Iran, Libya and others under U.S. suspicion or sanction to move money around the world.

HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion, the largest penalty ever imposed on a bank.

The U.S. stopped short of charging executives, citing the bank's immediate, full cooperation and the damage that an assault on the company might cause on economies and people, including thousands who would lose jobs if the bank collapsed.

Outside experts said it was evidence that a doctrine of "too big to fail," or at least "too big to prosecute," was alive and well four years after the financial crisis.

The settlement avoided a legal battle that could have further savaged the bank's reputation and undermined confidence in the banking system. HSBC does business in almost 80 countries, so many that it calls itself "the world's local bank."

Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's criminal division, cited a "stunning, stunning failure" by the bank to monitor itself. He said that it enabled countries subject to U.S. sanction -- Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan -- to move about $660 million in prohibited transactions through U.S. financial institutions, including HSBC, from the mid-1990s through September 2006.

Ill. gun ban sets stage for fight: A federal court ruling tossing out Illinois' ban on concealed weapons might end the last such gun prohibition in the country, but not without an expected fight. The question is whether the battle will be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has been silent on the issue of concealed weapons, or a legislative confrontation over the court's order that Illinois adopt a law allowing concealed carry with "reasonable limitations" like other states have. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said she is studying the issue, while gun control advocates quickly urged her to appeal Tuesday's ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Illinois' ban is unconstitutional. But the ban's defenders said they were more certain of fireworks over a second part of the ruling -- an order for the Illinois Legislature to come up with a law legalizing the concealed carry of weapons within 180 days.

Florida executes ex-cop: Manuel Pardo , a former police officer who murdered nine people during a 1986 crime spree, was executed Tuesday in Starke, Fla., after his attorneys' last-minute appeals were rejected. Pardo, 56, was pronounced dead at Florida State Prison at 7:47 p.m., about 16 minutes after the lethal injection process began. His attorneys had tried to block the execution by arguing that he was mentally ill, but federal courts declined to intercede. Reporters could not hear his final statement because of an apparent malfunction in the death chamber's sound system. Pardo also wrote a final statement that was distributed to the media, in which he claimed that he never killed any women, but "accepted full responsibility for killing six men.

Spire for One World Trade Center arrives: The crowning spire of the World Trade Center's tallest building arrived in New York on Tuesday -- in giant steel pieces on a barge that floated in past the Statue of Liberty. "It signifies that we're back, we're better than ever, and it shows the resilience of not just New York, but also people in general," said Steven Plate, the director of post 9/11 construction at the lower Manhattan trade center. For these nine parts of the spire too heavy to be driven in, Tuesday marked the end of a 1,500-nautical-mile journey that started in Canada on Nov. 16.

Holiday shopping beats out Sandy: Spending by holiday shoppers trumped Superstorm Sandy's impact on small businesses in November. A report Wednesday from MasterCard Advisors and Wells Fargo shows that shoppers spent 5.2 percent more at small retailers in November than they did last year. Small businesses even fared better than the industry at large: Total U.S. retail sales increased 4.5 percent for the same period. Small business and large businesses alike had a busy month.

Lugar's Senate work honored: Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday honored GOP Sen. Richard Lugar from the Senate floor, praising him for his years of service and calling him one of the chamber's all-time best. Mitch McConnell, the Senate's Republican leader, called Lugar a forward thinker and the embodiment of a "Republican intellectual." He praised Lugar's work on foreign policy issues, saying Lugar always pressed to improve the world around him. "I have no doubt he will be remembered as one of the best," McConnell said. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, echoed that view calling Lugar an important voice.

Advertise more jobs in October: U.S. employers advertised more jobs in October than September, a hopeful sign that hiring could pick up in the coming months. The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose by 128,000 to 3.68 million. That's the most since June. The number of available jobs is slowly climbing back to the roughly 4 million that were advertised each month before the recession began in December 2007. With nearly 12.3 million people unemployed in October, there were 3.3 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. That's the lowest ratio since November 2008. Still, in a healthy economy, the ratio is roughly 2 to 1.

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