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Too big to jail: The story of HSBC and the Mexican drug cartel

If you sell a gram of cocaine on the street you’re going to jail. If you’re complicit in laundering billions of dollars for a drug cartel, your organisation may just pay a fine. Chris Blackhurst recounts the greatest banking scandal in history

Monday 13 June 2022 11:37 BST
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Did HSBC receive a relatively light penalty for its involvement with a Mexican drug cartel?
Did HSBC receive a relatively light penalty for its involvement with a Mexican drug cartel? (Getty/The Independent)

In 2012, HSBC was fined $1.9bn and entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for facilitating the laundering of money by the Mexican drugs cartel headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The US Justice Department had been all set to bring criminal charges against HSBC executives and seek jail terms but was persuaded to strike a deal instead.

One of those who had been at the Justice Department and had paid close attention to what was unfolding was Richard Elias.

“Rich” Elias went to Missouri Law and won a clutch of honours. He started out defending companies, but, “after seeing first-hand how corporations often use their money, power, and influence to intimidate and thwart smaller plaintiffs”, he switched to pursuing corporate misconduct.

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