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How banks aid money laundering

By Jan D. Weir

In my other article, I discussed how bankers, through control of the right government departments, got to keep their obscene bonuses made from the financial crisis while millions lost their homes. And why fining banks is a penalty that does not punish. After the bailouts, banker criminal behavior continues unabated.

In the last couple of months, The New York Times broke a story that the Wells Fargo fake customer account scandal was vastly understated at the time — and raises suspicion it was done intentionally until the news cycle passed.

At the same time, a new scandal surfaced involving Wells Fargo staff selling unnecessary car insurance to low-end borrowers resulting in the wrongful repossession of some 20,000 cars.

In 2013, the LA Times broke the story of the pressure by managers who trained lower-level employees to oversell customers for bank products they did not need and the CEO’s famous mantra “eight is great” meaning every employee should ensure that every customer had eight bank products.

The repercussions of Wells Fargo’s scandal were exactly what we’ve come to expect from the government’s lenient, lassez-faire attitude towards bank fraud.

The government brought a class action on behalf of customers that was settled for a payment of $185 million by the bank. The CEO was replaced and given a retirement allowance of $133 million (what would you have gotten if you had screwed up and cost your company a multi-million-dollar loss?).

None of the managers or executives who had decided on the policy or enforced it suffered the slightest harm. They kept all of their salary and commissions earned by the illegal practice. None saw the inside of a jail cell for even a day.

On hearing of the new allegations against Wells Fargo, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled Fed chair, Janet Yellen. We’ll let you watch this magnificent takedown for yourself.

“And here is what worries me: Time after time, the banks cheat their customers and no actual human beings are being held accountable. Instead, there is a fine, which ultimately is paid by shareholders and not by executives and certainly not by directors. And nothing is going to change at banks if that doesn’t change.” Elizabeth Warren

When the Board of Directors of Wells Fargo were considering the $133 million retirement allowance for CEO John Stumpf, did it cross their minds that a $1 million stipend might be sufficient for a CEO who had screwed up so badly?

The better solution would have been to divide the remaining $132 million among their lowest paid employees. Whether that would mean a few thousand dollars or a few hundred dollars, any such amount would be a great relief to employees that lived on poverty line wages.

Surely the directors had seen the newspaper reports that many tellers were driven to frequent food banks because of their low salaries. Of course this idea didn’t, and in fact, couldn’t enter their minds — which tells us all we need to know about today’s banker mentality.

How Do Bankers Avoid Personal Consequences From Criminal Behavior?

Bankers understand power.

We could fret on Twitter on how offensive it is that bankers got millions in bonuses from taxpayer bailout money while average people lost their home, but that would be as far as we could make our outrage heard because bankers have implemented a strategy that has seized hold of our democracy.

There were politicians who wanted to see bankers, whether they were criminal or merely foolish, take the hit for the 2008 crisis, but even those politicians were powerless against the banks. Much earlier, bankers had seen how to turn what should have been a protection against abuse of power into a way to rig the system in their favor.

We all learned in school that the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the United States government are kept distinct in order to prevent abuse of power.

Accordingly, politicians cannot give orders to the AG’s office. It operates independently and can completely defeat what the politicians may want. Which is exactly what the AG’s office does to protect bankers and help them profit from fraud.

How did banks protect themselves from prosecution for fraud? Law firms that make multi-millions on banker retainer fees help the bankers get control of the AG’s office. And for the banks, this has been an amazingly successful strategy.

High End, Elite Financial Laundromats

In the days running up to 2008, while the banks were putting our economy at risk with their toxic CDOs in the housing market, some were also laundering money for Columbian and Mexican drug cartels. Cartels like El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel ultimately helped businesses trade with enemies of the United States.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency exposed Wachovia, named after a German province, as Guzman’s preferred bank in 2008. As one example of the blatant evidence against Wachovia, one London UK branch staffer, Martin Woods, a former London Metropolitan Police officer, came across large quantities of travelers’ checks for significant amounts in round numbers with serial numbers following each other — all to one aircraft manufacturer. You don’t need high-level forensic accounting training to realize that travelers don’t buy airplanes when they’re vacationing.Woods raised the suspicious transactions with his boss and got fired.

By happy coincidence, he met some members of the US DEA, who were on a conference in England, at a London pub and conveyed the story. Wachovia was also deep into the toxic CDO business, but when the money-laundering charges were revealed, it could not be saved by a bailout and collapsed.

Lanny Brueur, head of the criminal division of the AG’s office, took charge of the Wachovia case. No criminal charges were laid. No one went to jail.

The drug lords, in need of a new bank, found one that could meet all their needs in HSBC — the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, a British Corporation founded in Asia when those countries were British protectorates.

In 2011, when HSBC got caught transferring illegal cash from Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel into the legal money stream, Senators vowed this time the bankers were not going to get away with a slap on the wrist.

They instituted their own investigation and assembled all the evidence. Their findings, released in June of 2012, devoted one section exclusively to HSBC. The Senate uncovered far more than just money laundering for organized crime.

“They [HSBC] violated every goddamn law in the book. They took every imaginable form of illegal and illicit business.”Jack Blum, a former Senate investigator.

As one example, the Senators found the same suspicious use of traveler’s checks again, with HSBC clearing over $290 million illegibly signed checks that were obtained in Russia and deposited into Japanese accounts for the sale of used cars.

Assisting Al Qaeda

The Senate report also found HSBC had cleared transactions for Al Rajhi Trading, evidence of terrorist funding. The four Al Rajhi Brothers had established Al Rajhi Bank and Al Rajhi Trading. In 2002, the CIA had discovered one of the brother’s name on a list of Al Qaeda’s ‘Golden Chain’ of financiers.

Back in 1983, one of the four brothers in the Rajhi bank had established the SAAR Foundation in Virginia. Those are his initials (Sulaiman Abdul Aziz Al Rajhi). It was given U.S. charitable status, which permitted it to give out receipts for tax deductions. In 2002, acting on the Golden Chain evidence, a combined U.S. law enforcement task force raided the SAAR offices.

The documents they found proved the links to al Qaeda. American taxpayers had indirectly and unknowingly supported the 9/11 attacks in 2001 with tax deductions.

After the 2002 incendiary revelations, the HSBC had, at first, issued a no dealing directive for both organizations, but gradually chipped away at that absolute prohibition to allow dealing with Al Rajhi Trading.

“Group has clarified the Al Rajhi guidance issued last month. They have evaluated Al Rajhi Banking and Al Rajhi Trading and now believe that the two are separated enough that relationships may be maintained with the latter but not with the former. To be clear, recommendation is to sever with Banking only at this time.”

Translating the bankerspeak, that memo says that the head office has given the okay to do any transactions for Trading. We can pretend that we are really dumb and believe that the two companies are acting at arm’s length and that Trading would never, ever do money laundering for Banking.

The report also detailed HSBC subsidiaries assisting customers to evade sanctions to countries like North Korea, Libya (under Gaddafi), Iran, Sudan, Burma and Cuba.

 Weir is a trial lawyer, teach business law at the University of Toronto, co author of The Critical Concepts of Canadian Business Law.

To be continued…



Exclusive: Market outlook indicates Nigerian economy emerging from recession

By Jide Ajia

Despite slow pace of economy in mend, emerging signals from across finance and investments clime have indicated that the nation’s industries have been recovering from two years recession,  20 years ago.

Although, paths leading to the recovering destinations have been clouded with many factors, but the recent approval of the long-delayed 2017 budget should provide greater policy certainty in the months ahead.

Against odds, the federal government in recent times appeared to be up in alms while looking for growth to eventually return any moment from the current half of 2017, including good earnings expected to be delivered by companies very soon.

In addition, oil production has increased so far 2017 as threat from Niger Delta militants recedes; however, despite Nigeria initially being excluded from further Organization of Petroleum exporting Countries (OPEC) output cuts, talks have been centered on whether to include the country in the deal in a bid to curb supply of oil  across international market and boost prices.

Encouragingly, the foreign exchange window introduced in April, which allows buyers and sellers to agree on an exchange rate, is succeeding in attracting dollars from abroad, with over $3 billion been traded since the launch, as well as stock market boom recorded in recent months.

To this end, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, intensified efforts by forwarding over N135 billion as virement for critical and prioritized projects from the bill, to House of Representative for approval.

Through a letter forward to the floor by the office of the acting president recently, the presidency provided, with breakdown, ministries and offices considered critical to be funded.

However, the letter which The Guild sighted after it was delivered at the floor of the lawmakers, listed ministry of transport, that of power, works and housing, and office of secretary to the government of the federation, as well as office of national security adviser as beneficiaries of the virement.

Others on the list were, ministry of society and technology, trade and investment, agriculture and rural development, interior, defense and education.

The prioritized ministries and office also includes federal capital territory administration, ministry of health, office of secretary to the government of the federation, ministry of labor and employment, information and culture, as well as communication technology.

Of course, the letter before the house of representatives had ministry of water resources, that of mine and steel development, as well as ministry of environment, as government offices the presidency put under critical need for funding.

In same development, Osinbajo also assured citizens of economic recovery  during his speech that commemorated June 12 election , adding that, from bleakness of recession to dawn of abundance was becoming a reality as indices indicated.

Osinbajo disclosed that the nation’s path to progress and abundance was clear, given that tools were in place and resilient, resourceful and hardworking Nigerian people were also set to go.

“I have no doubt that by the grace of God, the bleakness of recession is about to witness the uplifting dawn of abundance”, he said.

With Osinbajo’s statements of hope, assurance was becoming a reality following indices released on Tuesday that Inflation has fallen for fifth successive month, between February and June 2017, just as the Naira gains stability against dollar, and margin between interbank and parallel market rates been  narrowed considerably.

However, surveys by investment analysts indicated that Nigerian Stock Exchange All Share Index (NSE) recorde encouraging result in recent months, about 20 per cent higher than beginning of 2017 value, and surge was largely attributable to new Investors and Exporters Window (NAFEX) introduced by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in April.

In specific terms, transactions on NSE during current week closed with market capitalisation crossing to N12 trillion threshold for first time in over two years when it grew by N142 billion or 1.19 per cent to close at N12.085 trillion as against N11.943 trillion achieved on Monday.

Also, the All-Share Index moved to 35,000 mark, appreciating by 412.95 points or 1.19 per cent to close at 35,065.47 compared with 34,652.52 posted on Monday.

The Chief Operating Officer, InvestData, Ambrose Omordion, linked the growth to half year impresive report and interim dividends declared by some quoted companies.

Omordion added that investors’ anticipation of more improved half year earnings contributed to the current price rally witnessed on the floor of Exchange.

In the same vein, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in same week retained Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) at 14 per cent due to uncertainties across global market.

However, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, explained that the MPC decided to retain MPR at 14 per cent, retained CRR at 22.5 per cent, the liquidity ratio at 30 per cent, assymetric corridor at 200 and of minus 500 bases point around the monetary policy rate.

Emefiele, disclosing outcome of 257th meeting of  MPC on Tuesday in Abuja, added that the MPR was not eased because it could signal the committees’ sensitivity to growth and employment concern by encouraging flow of credit to real economy.

According to him, the MPC noted the liquidity suffering in the banking system and continuous weakness in financial intermediation, even as the MPC also agreed on the need to support growth without jeopardizing price stability or offsetting other recovering macroeconomic indicators, particularly the relative stability in the Foreign Exchange market.

As a result, the Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves proved stable in recent months, even against a backdrop of continuing CBN intervention in the FX market.

Already, the new investors and Exporters Window (NAFEX) has picked up momentum and powered a turnaround in investor sentiments related to the FX market, with the window has traded around $3.8 billion since it launched on April 24, roughly a third of such volume has been supplied by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Nonetheless, the nation’s crude oil production has improved appreciably, coming in at 2.05 million barrels per day in June 2017, according to the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC’s) May 2017 operations report, average daily gas supply to Nigeria’s power plants has risen by 64 per cent, compared to a year ago, May 2016.

On account of rising exports and falling imports, Q1 2017 was the second consecutive quarter of positive trade balance when exports was greater than imports, after four quarters of negative balance.

Facts obtained from the CBN data from June 2017, showed a rise in Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a measure of the health of the manufacturing economy, for the third consecutive month.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in Q1 2017 exports of agricultural goods grew in value by 82 per cent compared to Q4 2016 and manufactured goods exports in Q1 2017 were 45 per cent more than the value in Q4 2016, while Q1 2017 saw the fourth consecutive rise in exports since Q1 2016; amounting to a 109 per cent increase year on year.

Nike Okundaye journeying through Batik

By Ada Dike

There are few African women that have made tremendous impact towards development and promotion of creative arts. One of them is Nike Davies Okundaye, an artist, batik originator, singer and dancer.

Spurred by a strong desire to set up a gallery where Nigerians, Africans and tourists would learn and appreciate Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage, she built a state-of–the-art gallery in Lekki, Lagos State. The gallery houses artworks, cloths and bags. The bags and cloths are made with locally made fabrics.

Born on May 23, 1951, she lost her mother at the age of six and went to live with her grandmother who died the following year. So she went to stay with her great grandmother who was the then head of fabric weaving.

“Because I lost my mother early in life, one of my mother’s sisters had to bring me to Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. Osogbo has rich art and cultural heritage and was one of the centres for Yoruba artistic heritage. It was while I was in Osogbo as a young girl that I heard about the late Susanne Wenger and her husband Ulli Beier.  Up till today, I consider them the major catalyst of Nigerian art movement,” Okundaye said

She explained that extra-moral classes that Beier conducted in those days was what helped art in Nigeria to blossom.

“They identified those talents and built them in arts. Today, as you know many of them have become international artists.”

For her, Susanne was the one she derived inspiration from specifically, likewise other artists. Okundaye said  it was then that she decided to go and grow up with her because of the way Beier embraced everybody including Yoruba religion and culture.

“Honestly, she truly inspired me during my stay with her. That was how I started with arts. But let me equally say that from the very beginning, my family is into craft art especially, where I come from in Ogidi Ijumu, Kogi State. My first effort was in weaving, then from weaving I moved into Adire (indigenous textile designing), but later, I discovered the Batik, which I called the loss wax method,” she said.

Okundaye explained that Batik is also called campalla.

She noted that due to her avowed love for weaving indigenous textile designing, she was dubbed   Mama Adire, adding that Adire making has taken her across the globe .

“The Adire has carried me to so many countries of the world,”  says Okundaye.

She stressed that though she loves Adire, she also does oil and acrylic paintings which she all exhibited at her gallery.

“We have held so many exhibitions in my gallery since we opened. Some featured my works and other Nigerian and foreign artists,” Okundaye said.

Her Lagos art gallery is one of the highly patronised tourists’ centres in Nigeria. At present, she has more than 7000 artworks in her gallery in Lagos, though not all of them are for sale.

“A lot of them are displayed for Nigerians and tourists to see the creativity in Nigeria just like in museums abroad. People pay money to enter museums abroad but we do not collect money in my gallery because it is a foundation and it is a dream that came to fruition,” she revealed.

Artists are happy to see their works displayed in my gallery. Each artist works with a spirit that drives him. We don’t see what they are seeing till they are through with their works,” she said.

On how she makes fortune from her gallery, she  said:  “I actually make money within and outside Nigeria. I do workshop in many countries such as Austria, France, Spain and so on. That is how I succeed with my work, but I derive joy and satisfaction of doing it in Nigeria. My gallery enables Nigerians to learn and develop their cultural heritage. I want to leave the gallery as a legacy after my death.”

What is the major challenge facing her gallery? she was asked. “Funding has been my major challenge so I hereby appeal to individuals, private and public organisations to come to my aid. I know that government cannot do everything for us but I want them to assist us in any way they can,” Okundaye said.

When she was asked to predict how art as a profession in Nigeria would look like in the next 10 years, she said with the help of the Ministry for Art and Culture, Nigeria would be known as African art depot in the next 10 years.

“We have over 30,000 registered artists in Nigeria which is quite intimidating compared with other countries. I am sure that the unregistered artists are more in number than the registered ones,” she said.

According to her, “Artwork is a therapy, If you see a work in which a mother is carrying her baby, it means love and warmness. If you look at an artwork, you would forget your problem.”

The cool and calm woman who is on a mission to reposition Nigeria and indeed Africa’s rich culture in people’s minds advises young artists in Nigeria to be honest in anything they do.

“Whatever you are doing, do it well. Let your work advertise your name. Market yourself in a good way. When you make money, save for the rainy day. Divide it into three parts-for your needs, family, then save the third part for your future. Above all, pass the knowledge to your children. Spanish painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso was not a millionaire before he died but his works are now in many countries,” Okundaye added.

Though she did not have formal education, she has two doctorate degrees from schools in the United States of America. The second is on performing art.

“I am also a singer and dancer too,” she said with a smile.

The proprietress of the nationally spread cultural centres said her vision for opening art centres in Osogbo, with branches in Lagos, Abuja and Ogidi Ijumu is to promote artists, empower rural women and provide training opportunities for those interested in learning the practical aspect of art.