Category Archives: apathy

How much more contempt must society swallow from banks?

Interesting few weeks – the election of course with the Conservatives winning a majority – who saw that one coming? And, in the process, the Tories appear to have demolished most of the other parties, not to mention some key names in politics. Of course the SNP helped the Tories enormously – the idea of Labour with the SNP running Westminster had a devastating effect. It’s almost as if we collectively had visions of bearded, kilted Scotsmen rampaging all over England intent on rape and pillage, when we still haven’t recovered from the suited and booted Scotsmen who ran the Government and some of the big banks – so that didn’t help poor Ed. And this just goes to show that while we pat ourselves on the back for being a liberal, accommodating, multi cultural society, the truth is we’re every bit as Nationalistic as Germany, France or Italy. And why not? What’s wrong with being fiercely protective of your Country? And while, in this instance, we conveniently forgot Scotland is part of Britain, I think many of us did reasonably feel that is a tenuous situation which a second referendum could change.

Anyway the Conservatives won and that was certainly a relief to big business who were apparently sure Ed Miliband was anti business. But I wonder if anyone in politics could make a difference to the whims and pleasures of major corporations now – and especially our financial sector?

One thing that has been made abundantly clear (again) in the last week with a US Judge handing out multi billion pounds fines to our big banks, is how much more powerful banks are than Governments. If I was trying to explain to an alien what’s been going on over the last twenty years in the ‘Incredible saga between banks and society’ I would say:

“From the late 90’s, bankers decided they could make more money and bigger bonuses by forgoing traditional banking and behaving recklessly, unethically and with gay, greedy abandon until this conduct nearly brought even the wealthiest of nations to their knees by 2008. So Governments bailed the banks out with the monies they collect in taxes to pay for essential services, even although this caused mass austerity for millions of ordinary people. But we never really got to the bottom of the reckless behaviour and we certainly didn’t blame anyone. So bankers realised very quickly they could carry on with that kind of behaviour and nothing much would happen.

Pardon? Yes we do have laws on this planet and yes bankers did break them but the leaders running the various countries on behalf of the people, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to apply the laws to the bankers? Why – well apparently it’s complicated (or so we’re told) and, aside from anything else, we, the public, would have felt loath to trust a financial sector where some of the bosses turned out to be convicted felons.

Yes I know some of them may well be ‘criminals in pinstripe’ but that’s not the point. You can’t just go around calling people crooks if our justice system hasn’t confirmed it – so the trick is, don’t prosecute people and then no one can say they’ve done anything criminal.

What happened next? Well obviously, realising they had immunity from the law and could therefore do what the f*ck they liked with no personal consequence, the bankers dreamt up even more blatantly criminal scams to make money because – what did they have to lose? And when they (banks – not bankers) were found guilty of crimes, either their share holders or the tax payer (again) paid massive fines on behalf of the banks to the organisations set up to make sure banks did behave well and didn’t break any laws in the first place.

No I don’t know why these organisations didn’t police the banks properly. But I suppose if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to demand billions of pounds in fines at a later date.

What happened to the bosses running the banks? Well obviously they got huge bonuses even although they were overseeing criminal operations. And let’s be logical – the banks may have been fined billions of pounds but that’s a fraction of the profit they made while acting illegally. So you could say these bosses were doing a good job in terms of making money – which is all banks care about.

Yes, you’ve summed that up beautifully – the people bailed the banks out when they lost everyone’s money; then the banks carried on robbing the countries blind while paying their executives millions of pounds and finally; the public paid the fines for their criminal conduct. It’s a total Catch 22 as far as society is concerned.

I realise it makes no sense to you – it makes no sense to most people on the planet. Don’t we have a say in all this you ask? Well yes we do. We vote for the kind of leadership we think will be best for society and who will stop this kind of thing. So why doesn’t it stop? I don’t know. And yes, I’d say society is deeply offended our elected representatives have given bankers immunity from the laws of the land. Many of us are trying to do something about it. I have written many a letter to various leaders asking for a logical explanation to what’s going on http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I haven’t had any replies – no doubt our leaders are very busy trying to work out how to balance the scales of a disappointed and furious populace on the one hand and the all powerful and Government empowered banks on the other hand. It can’t be easy forecasting which camp will do the most damage if not appeased. Especially if there’s not much you can do about the situation.

And no, I don’t know how much more contempt society can swallow before it all turns very nasty.

What, you’re off to find a more logical, ethical planet for your holiday? I don’t blame you. At least you managed to catch the Eurovision Song Contest while you were here. Do you know, that used to be considered one of the most bizarre, hilarious and illogical things on the planet? Now it seems like a welcome break in an even more bizarre reality.”

So 5000 SMEs supported the Tories but who will support 5M SMEs?

For some reason – and I can’t for the life of me understand what the reason is – in the recent election debates, none of the political parties have raised the issues of banks (you know the ones that caused mass austerity) bank misconduct (PPI, IRHP, EFG’s, Libor rigging, GRG, HBOS Reading, money laundering for drug cartels etc. etc) or the related issues of law and order and a two tier justice system. You know, the one whereby the majority of crimes committed by anyone in our financial sector results in no one going to jail and shareholders paying hefty fines for the “get out of jail free cards”.

Apparently none of this conduct and none of these issues are relevant to the election and we don’t need to know what the parties intend to do about them – if anything?

It’s been suggested (and probably rightly) that politicians feel such a minority of the population has been directly affected by such issues, it’s not worth making a big deal about them – not really a vote winner.

I just want explain why I think that is a total misconception. It affects millions.

On Monday the Telegraph ran an article about the 5000 SME owners who have signed Baroness Brady’s letter and pledged their support to the Conservative party. Personally I don’t think that was a very wise PR tactic because the obvious question is, who do the other 4,995,000 support? However the point I want to make is – according to the article 5000 SMEs represents 100,000 jobs.

According to the FCA, more than 60,000 SMEs were mis sold IRHP (Interest rate swaps): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/10527353/FCA-chief-warns-Treasury-swaps-scandal-could-be-significantly-bigger.html

So by the logic of Baroness Brady’s letter, that would represent 1,200,000 jobs.

Recently, Clive May, a builder and founder member of SME Alliance, successfully got an admission from RBS that they had miss-sold EFG loans and were now investigating 1800 of them: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2915335/Relief-fierce-critic-RBS-admission-mis-selling-loans.html

That’s another another 36,000 jobs and of course it’s the tip of the iceberg because a lot of banks were ‘mis-selling’ EFGs and, before that, SFLGs. According to Government statistics 1,740,736 EFG loans were drawn down between November 2008 and November 2013. Obviously, or should I say hopefully, not all of them were miss sold. But even working on the calculation only 10% were (and I think I’m being generous there) that’s still 174,073. Assuming (again hopefully) only 10% of that number resulted in SMEs being fatally damaged, that’s still 17,407 SMEs which, according to yesterdays statistics, equals approx. 348,000 jobs.

You see where this is going? Add to those figures the victims of asset stripping etc etc and you won’t get much change from the fact at least 100,000 SMEs who employed approximately 2,000,000 people, have been affected by bank misconduct. And that’s a conservative estimate. If you then add all the SMEs who were creditors of the failed businesses and who then had their own difficulties, the picture is very bleak. When I was investigating the HBOS Reading debacle, I started keeping a chart of the creditors affected and I gave up when I reached 20,000 – most of whom were SMEs.

All of the above wouldn’t be so devastating but for the other key issue being ignored in the election debate – justice and law and order. If SMEs could rely on the regulators, we may not feel so anxious to know what the political parties are planning to do about access to justice. But we can’t. I’m not going into detail here – but I can assure you that in the majority of cases, we can’t.

Neither can most of us afford civil litigation – and especially now when court fees have gone up to £10,000 while legal aid is all but non existent for SMEs. And, leaving aside court fees, in my view many SMEs are being seen as little more than cash cows by some legal firms who clearly think their remuneration should be on a par with bankers – regardless of whether or not they get results for their clients. And some, having milked the cow, drop the client the moment the udders run dry.

Where banks have committed criminal offences (and there have been many) we wouldn’t be so worried if we could report these crimes to the police and know justice would prevail. Again, in most cases that’s not an option and, on the odd occasion it does happen, you need to be prepared to wait years for any outcome. Generally speaking criminal prosecutions against bankers remain as rare as rocking horse sh*t and we’ve seen over and over again how banks deal with their crimes – they get shareholders to pay whacking great big fines and that’s the end of it.

Unbelievably our justice system and Governments (Labour and then the Coalition) seems to turn a blind eye to the fact so many crimes are going unpunished. Unbelievably, we, the public, have come to accept that status quo. There is now indisputable evidence bankers are not subject to the same laws as ordinary people. Additionally, SMEs know even when they can prove (and even in a Court) that a bank destroyed businesses, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything will be done about it: https://derekcarlylevrbs.wordpress.com/. Seems some banks are as cavalier in their view of a Judges power, as they are in politicians power.

I know I’ve waited 8 years for justice and it’s still not on the horizon. I know many members of SME Alliance are in the same boat. And those bankers who are deliberately perverting the course of justice by denying or burying criminality they are fully cognisant of, are still being given telephone number bonuses to continue this charade. Yes, Dave, Ed, Nick, we know all of that.

What we don’t know is: WHICH POLITICAL PARTY WILL ADDRESS THESE MATTERS AND SUPPORT SMES? #Justasking

But it’s never too late for someone to tell us. Who knows, maybe at the 11th hour one of the political parties will pull the cat out of the bag and show some support for the thousands of SMEs that have been ravaged by banks and who are really struggling to get justice.

And that could be a big vote winner.

BTW Before some annoying troll posts on twitter that neither I nor SME Alliance speak for or represent the views of all SMEs – I totally agree. That’s hardly the issue – this blog is about which politicians will speak out for SMEs – and will they do it before the election?

Apathy International. Does anyone really expect HSBC or wealthy tax evaders to be prosecuted?

I had an interesting conversation on twitter last night with someone I don’t know from Canada – although I think he is British. The very topical subject was “why are wealthy people guilty of tax evasion not prosecuted?” And right from the start of the conversation my twitter friend, let’s call him Bill, made the point that in his view it would cost so much money and take so much time to prosecute them all, it would be counter productive. The cost would be more than the gain.

Bill is probably right. Tracking down the thousands of people identified by the Swiss Whistle blower (and let’s face it, as he says, his list is the tip of the iceberg) would cost a fortune and would probably result in very lengthy criminal trials where the only beneficiaries would be the lawyers. And Bill compared the situation to the gun amnesty used in the US. Hand in your unlicensed gun and we’ll say no more about it. Here the equivalent would be throw the tax man a few thousand pounds voluntarily and we’ll call it a day. I say a few thousand because, in the same way it wouldn’t be cost effective to prosecute these people, I can’t imagine HMRC have the manpower or even the will to do full on investigations into how much is actually owed?

My point was (and is) even considering the logistics of this situation, how can a democratic country ditch the law in the case of one section of society because it’s not cost effective to enforce law? Tax evasion is against the law and nowhere does it say “unless you are part of a rich minority who has been advised by your bank to shunt your money offshore.”

I also made the point HMRC will go through hell and high water to prosecute so called benefit cheats or even people on low incomes who may have been overpaid and then can’t pay it back. Similarly SMEs will be hounded for perceived VAT or tax issues and, if the man in the street doesn’t get all his tax returns in precisely on time and to their satisfaction, HMRC will be very efficient in sending out demands for what they calculate is owed or hefty fines. They also have no compunction about prosecuting for a few hundred pounds if they feel it is due. And that happens to thousands of people.

Bill made the point it doesn’t make any difference whether you cheat the tax man of £50.00 or £5M – it’s still against the law. I agree. So why do I have this horrible feeling you are less likely to be penalised for the £5M than the £50? And the same seems to be true of money laundering or other economic crimes. Big banks money laundering for drug cartels just get hefty fines paid by their shareholders but no one goes to jail. Here’s an extract from my book about HBOS (to be published in the dim and distant future) on these criminal but curiously acceptable transactions:

And by the way, how does that happen? It’s common knowledge now that certain banks have done these totally illegal deals and, yet again, no one in any bank is to blame and instead, the shareholders have paid massive fines as a penalty for bankers conduct. But if no one’s to blame, how do the deals get done? Do the bosses of the drug cartels phone a special ‘money laundering’ call centre and listen to an anonymous voice giving various options: “Please dial 1 for drug deals, 2 for arms deals or 3 for off shore tax evasion. To hear these options again, please dial 4.” Or do the Banks have departments which deal specifically with these ‘dodgy transactions’ and where the staff work in the secure knowledge no one will ever go to jail for criminal deals because bankers are above the law?”

Then there’s other proven fraudulent products like IRHP – another fine. Out and out asset theft from SMEs – another fine. PPI, EFG, SFLG, it’s becoming like a game show – think of an acronym and the contestants get to guess the appropriate meaning and the applicable fine. Winner gets two weeks in the Caymen Islands all expenses (and of course taxes) paid by the FCA. But if you or I were to commit any deliberately fraudulent act to turn a quick profit, you could expect and get the full force of the law to come into force.

However, taxes and financial crime aside, what really disturbed me about my twitter conversation which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed because I love a good debate, was the apathy involved. While Bill agreed with me we shouldn’t have a two tier justice system, his very logical approach was, as Tony Soprano would say, wattayagonnado? We are where we are and there’s little we can do about it – apparently.

I am pretty sure the members of SME Alliance would not agree. Most of them (me included) have been victims of the many and varied banking scams which have devastated SMEs. Most of us have been fighting for justice for what seems like a lifetime and sometimes pretty much is and we are, putting it politely, extremely angry at the way banks, who have caused us so much damage, are never penalised except with shareholders fines. Neither are they obliged by the regulators to repair the damage done. So when we hear about people with very healthy off shore bank accounts, organised by their bank, becoming immune from prosecution, we are anything but apathetic, we’re furious. It’s another slap in the face of the British justice system and another reason we are losing faith in it.

But, being honest, I think back to my life before the consequences of fraudulent bankers and their associates kicked in – was I even aware of our two tier justice system? Admittedly inequality has got worse since the so called credit crunch but, if my business hadn’t been sabotaged and had instead fulfilled its full potential and made millions of pounds, would I be seriously concerned about the conduct of the likes of HSBC and its tax dodging clients? Would I be calling for prosecutions? Or would I be taking the rather detached and very logical approach Bill takes?

We have a saying in our house, “you can’t not know what you do know.” And that’s a shame because the things I now know after 7 years of investigating bank fraud and social injustice, very often stop me sleeping at night. I didn’t sleep much last night thinking it’s possible a massive segment of society may be so oblivious to what is happening to democracy or, more likely, just trying to get on with their own reduced circumstances in austerity Britain, they don’t even care about off shore accounts in Switzerland or Monaco. But I think (or should I say I hope) I would have been aware, albeit to a lesser degree, of the increasing dangers our democracy faces even if I hadn’t experienced the consequences personally. I’m a lyricist and a poet and I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez – so the spirit of protest has always been there. But who knows? As long as the comfortable remain comfortable, will they rock the boat? Hmmn. While apathy is, on the one hand a powerful tool for the State, it’s also a powerful tool for the individual conscience.

“If there is nothing I can do about injustice, no one can blame me for doing nothing.” It’s a scary concept but one that has helped permit every shameful human catastrophe.

Anyway, I don’t know what the resolution is to the HSBC tax evaders or the many other tax evaders who were no doubt advised by other banks. Quite frankly, I think those banks must be bricking it in case their own whistle blowers come forward. I agree with Bill, it is impractical to think HMRC can or will prosecute all of these people. But, and remembering this year sees the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, if we are truly a democratic society, I cannot see how Government, or the appropriate authority, cannot prosecuted them? After all, one person has been prosecuted and surely that has set the precedent? And what was so special about that case? Seems a bit harsh – thousands do it but only one pays the price.

I wouldn’t like to be running this Country. Whatever good intentions any of our politicians have, there seems to be an endless barrage of obstacles in the way of good governance and most of those involve the necessity to compromise and close their eyes to the kind of corruption that is swamping the Country. Hard, I imagine, not to just go with the flow for the 5 years they are in power. And hardest for those in power as opposed to those in opposition where it’s easy to shout foul (especially if you have a short memory)!

If anyone thinks they have the answer to the current problem – is it possible to prosecute every criminal act in the financial system and the associated activities like tax evasion, I’d be happy to hear it and I’m sure many politicians would as well. If we did take this route, we’d have to build a lot more prisons because financial crime, without doubt, is more epidemic or contagious than the flu and we have no jab for it. We seem to have no cure for corruption.

I leave you with a poem I wrote in 2003. I rarely inflict poetry on my blog readers but this one seems entirely appropriate.

Apathy International

I am a member of

Apathy International.

I am working my way up in the company

and should shortly become

a bored member.

Membership was free

and just slipped onto my shoulders

during a raging storm,

like a comfortable old raincoat.

The effects are almost unnoticeable

as is everything else now.

And, as in all such large organisations,

only non members receive active attention,

so I fully expect to disappear completely and painlessly any day now.

(Which I really can’t worry about).

But late at night I wake up

terrified

as a distant but unfiltered image of raw gaping wounds stabs me

and I can hear the hideous cackle of the devil’s favourite shareholders

and I recognise the voice of our beloved CEO crooning

and I think I will implode with panic.

But in the grey reasoned morning light

I think –

what could I do? Nothing.

So I don’t –

except to gently fondle my membership badge.

© Nikki Turner 2003