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.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?