19 Jun 2013

Have reckless bankers been jailed in other countries?

Five years after the financial crisis, a parliamentary commission is recommending that bankers guilty of “reckless misconduct ” could be jailed. What has happened across the world since then?

Bailing out the banks in Britain at the height of the global financial crisis cost the taxpayer a staggering £133bn.

The government still owns most of RBS and two fifths of Lloyds, and there are doubts the taxpayer will be fully reimbursed when the companies are returned to the private sector.

No-one from the banks has been jailed for their part in those dark days, which pushed the country into a deep recession that is still being felt today.

After the Libor rate-fixing scandal, the coalition government set up the parliamentary commission on banking standards.

In its final report, published on Wednesday, the commission recommends that the law should be changed to make senior bankers personally responsible for malpractice in their institutions, with the possibility of a jail sentence for those falling foul of this new regime.

Bankers in other countries have found themselves behind bars for their role during the crisis, but those in top Wall Street jobs are not among them.

Roger McCormick, director of the sustainable finance project at the London School of Economics, told Channel 4 News: “Most jurisdictions do not have a criminal offence directly related to causing the collapse of a bank.

“As the law stands, I think you’ll find that when bankers are jailed, they’re jailed for discrete financial activity not directly related to a bank going under.”

‘Legally difficult’

Prof McCormick believes that changing the law in Britain would not be easy. “All we have is a recommendation from a parliamentary commission. It’s an interesting idea, but legally difficult territory to go into,” he said.

“What test of reckless conduct would there be? Would it be akin to the criminal offence of recklessness in manslaughter?

“It’s difficult imposing a standard of behaviour that would not apply to other enterprises. But it may well survive as there’s currently public demand for some sort of criminal sanction to apply. The reason the law is as it is, is because it’s far from easy drawing up a new law.”

Five years after the financial crisis, a parliamentary commission is recommending that bankers guilty of

In May, a Spanish judge ordered that the former chairman of Caja Madrid, Miguel Blesa (pictured left), should be jailed as an investigation is carried out into the company’s purchase of a US bank in 2008.

He is the first (and only?) senior Spanish banker to be imprisoned over alleged failings during the financial crisis.

Caja Madrid merged with six other banks in 2010 to form Bankia, which was rescued with 22 billion euros of taxpayers’ money, forcing the Spanish government to seek a bailout from the EU and IMF.

In December 2012, two former executives at the defunct Icelandic bank Glitnir, whuich collapsed in 2008, were jailed for fraud.

Larus Welding and Gudmundur Hjaltason were sentenced to nine months in jail, with six months suspended. They were accused of approving a loan to a company which owned shares in Glitnir so it could repay a debt to Morgan Stanley.

Bank failures

In the US, 463 banks have failed since 2008, according a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report from November 2012.

The WSJ said about 17 former executives of those banks were in prison, most from small banks “that boomed and then busted”. They were “caught hiding bad loans and lying to regulators”.

Jerry Williams is one of these bankers. He ran Orion Bank, which was seized by regulators in 2009.

Two years later, Williams was indicted on 13 criminal charges, including giving a false impression of the bank’s financial health. He admitted three counts and received a six-year prison sentence.

Very few bankers in the US have been taken to task since 2008, in striking contrast to what happened during the savings and loans crisis in the 1980s, when more than 1,000 were convicted – most for fraud.

Five years after the financial crisis, a parliamentary commission is recommending that bankers guilty of

There are several others in the financial world who have been jailed for misdeeds unrelated to the financial crisis.

Among them are former UBS rogue trader Kweku Adoboli (pictured right), found guilty of a £1.5bn fraud, the biggest in British history.

150-year sentence

Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence for operating a Ponzi scheme that cheated thousands of people out of their life savings – the biggest financial fraud in US history.

Allen Stanford, who also operated a Ponzi scheme, was once one of the richest people in the US. He is now serving a 110-year sentence for defrauding investors.

Then there is former broker Nick Leeson, who brought down Barings, Britain’s oldest investment bank. After a stretch in a Singaporean prison, he moved to Ireland, where he was appointed chief executive of Galway United FC. He is now an after-dinner speaker.