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Gordon Campbell on the BNP Paribas case, and Dotcom

Gordon Campbell on the BNP Paribas case, and the selective pursuit of Dotcom

by Gordon Campbell

So the extradition hearing for Kim Dotcom has been delayed until next February. In another long running drama, a final deal on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact is hoped for by year’s end. If a TPP deal is completed by that date, US President Barack Obama can then begin the hard part, which will involve getting ‘fast track’ trade authority from Congress, so that he can then bypass scrutiny by Congress of the contents of the deal. Good luck with that. Given that the Republican Party has been taken over by Tea Party elements out to destroy the US government, such a gift from Congress to the White House looks unlikely any time during this millennium.

In the meantime, the US remains determined to extradite Dotcom. This mindset stands in marked contrast to the behavior of the US authorities over the BNP Paribas case. BNP Paribas is a French bank that systematically flouted international sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan. The US authorities have described BNP’s behavior as a ten year ‘Tour De Fraud.’ Along the way, BNP provided a banking lifeline to the Sudanese government while it was massacring tens of thousands of people in Darfur. As the Economist put it:

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Most of the money [BNP] helped channel to Sudan went to the army, which in turn used the cash to finance rape and pillage. In the immediate aftermath of the crisis in Darfur, in 2006, BNP’s Swiss branch held around half of Sudan’s foreign-currency assets…BNP’s bosses were given ample warning—by internal auditors, external lawyers and the American authorities—that its actions were illegal in America. Its managers first concealed its law-breaking and then, when they belatedly decided to stop dealing with Sudan in 2007, failed to ensure that their underlings complied with sanctions on other countries.

BNP Paribas did not get taken to court. It did a deal with the US authorities whereby BNP paid $9 billion in penalties, sacked or retired a few of its staff and continued on its merry, profit-making way. “What is the appropriate penalty for a firm that abets genocide?” the Economist asked itself rhetorically. “ Roughly a year’s profit and the sacking of a dozen employees, the American authorities concluded this week.” The amounts of money involved are pretty fascinating, as this Bloomberg News report on the BNP case indicates:

The documents show that top managers knowingly -- flagrantly -- conspired to skirt U.S. sanctions. Employees acted on orders from Paris and Geneva-based managers who didn't want to lose the lucrative business of Sudanese, Cuban and Iranian entities. Those countries were willing to pay dearly to be able to trade internationally while under U.S. embargo. BNP ultimately handled $190 billion in transactions for them.

BNP's lawyers warned that the bank was flirting with criminal prosecution, yet it kept on conducting the transactions. It did so even after other European banks were penalized for doing the same thing. Amazingly, the violations continued for two years after the U.S. informed the bank it was under investigation.

At one point, when compliance officers complained, the bank's co-chief operating officer, Georges Chodron de Courcel, overrode them at a meeting at which he requested that no minutes be kept….As one prosecutor said in court yesterday, "This conspiracy was known and condoned at the highest levels of BNP."

Bloomberg then asks the obvious question:

So why weren't individuals prosecuted? U.S. officials appear to have had ample evidence but decided it's not worth the trouble. Indicting non-U.S. citizens is a tricky business involving extradition treaties. It can also spark recrimination from allies, especially when the individuals are prominent financiers.

Right. So individuals who reaped mega profits from illegal business transactions worth $190 billion – and who knowingly aided and abetted genocide to obtain that business - are not being sought for extradition to face justice in an American court. And why not? Because extradition is not worth the trouble “when the individuals are prominent financiers” and because extradition processes are complicated and besides, the French might retaliate against US bankers. Different story entirely with Kim Dotcom…whose “secondary copyright infringement” activities are (a) not even defined as a crime under US law (b) who has caused no physical harm to anyone, and (c) whose wealth from his activities is only a tiny fraction of the illegal, genocide-related business done by BNP Paribas. Guess who is being pursued relentlessly for extradition by the US authorities.

In the process, the US has done its level best to destroy Dotcom’s business. No such problems for the French bank. In the end, BNP Paribas was comfortably able to pay its $9 billion fine without needing to raise fresh capital or cut its dividends, and its share price zoomed on news of the US settlement. BNP sees a rosy future for itself, as the bank explained in this press release:

“Apart from the impact of the fine, BNP Paribas will once again post solid results this quarter and we want to thank our clients, employees, shareholders and investors for their support throughout this difficult time.

The Group remains focused on implementing its 2014-2016 business development plan…. In particular, North America remains a strategic market for the Group where we plan to further develop our retail, investment solutions and corporate & investment banking franchise over the coming years. BNP Paribas is a client-centric bank and we will continue to work every single day to earn the trust and respect of all our stakeholders in service of our clients and the economy”.

Keep BNP Paribas in mind as the US authorities continue to use our legal system as a tool to destroy Dotcom, and his colleagues.

Listen While I Play
Here’s a great clip from the late 1960s by the Lemon Pipers, who managed to make Spinal Tap seem totally redundant. Take their names for starters. The guitarist was Robert G. “Reg” Nave, and the lead singer was a Miami University student called Dale “Ivan” Browne. Before they became the Lemon Pipers they were the Wombats, then Ivan and the Sabres, and then for a while, Tony and the Bandits. True to the Spinal Tap script, they really wanted to do their own more meaningful stuff. They had a song they’d written called “Fifty Year Void” but their label wanted them to play bubble gum music. Such was what press releases at the time called “the duality of the Lemon Pipers.”

From the city of Cincinnati in 1969, here are the Lemon Pipers doing “Green Tambourine” with props that include…a green tambourine, a tiny, tiny carousel, a robot, a rubber elephant and a big stuffed bear they shamelessly mistreat. Good lyrics, too: “When you drop a coin / you’ll hear it sing…” Maybe if you’re stoned enough, that is. Or is it just because “Money feeds my music machine?” Oh, the duality.


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