James Moore: It seems the big beasts of banking really are too big to jail after all

Outlook US Attorneys certainly have a neat line in soundbites. "A Tour de Fraud," is how Preet Bharara described the conduct of French bank BNP as he and his colleagues confirmed what we all knew: BNP will pay a record $9bn for its alleged involvement in sanctions busting.

It was a neat little sideswipe at the old rival from across the Atlantic. But the assertion that "no bank is too big to jail", a play on "too big to fail", doesn't so easily stand up to scrutiny.

BNP as an institution is getting hammered as the "worst offender" when it comes to sanctions busting. The American authorities alleged some extremely cynical conduct on its part and will ban it from cleaning dollar-based transactions for a time in addition to the fine.

But despite claiming that the misconduct was known about at very senior levels we aren't going to see any senior BNP people donning orange jumpsuits ahead of uncomfortable stays at Riker's Island Penitentiary.

Some 45 employees have been disciplined – and 13 are out of the door, including chief operating officer Georges Chodron de Courcel – but that's as far as it goes.

The penalty meted out to BNP is certainly substantial enough for the bank – and its peers – to take seriously.

It might even encourage BNP's shareholders to consider whether they could have done more to avert it by exercising proper oversight.

But if the misconduct at BNP was as serious as prosecutors have alleged, if laws were wilfully broken, why are individuals not being called to account as well as the institution?

Of course we've been here before. This latest affair will simply reinforce the perception that individual bankers, thanks to their wealth and power, have been allowed to "get away with it" despite all the chest thumping from the various authorities in the US.

It's true charges have been pressed against a number of those alleged to have been involved in some of the other recent high-profile scandals, but they are largely relative small fry in terms of banking hierarchies.

The senior executives responsible for setting policies, and culture – the men who run the show – as ever have successfully hidden behind committee-based decision-making and the repeated assertions that they didn't know what was going on under their own noses.

Prosecutors have lacked either the wherewithal, or the will (or both) to bring cases against them. It appears that the big beasts of banking really are too big to jail.

Which is why it's still easier to find a banker willing to turn up to work in a baseball cap and a football shirt (either the American or our kind) than it is to find them in those jumpsuits.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall