These 2018 Corporate Scandals Demonstrate Why the New Democratic Congress Must Crack Down on Corruption

Lambert here: Sadly, the political class lacks the expertise to translate “must” into “will.” At least on this issue.

By Matthew Chapman, a video game designer, science fiction author, and political activist from Texas. Originally published at Alternet.

The headlines for white-collar crime this year have largely been grabbed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who has uncovered a huge array of financial crimes in President Donald Trump’s inner circle. But though Mueller’s revelations have shocked the American public consciousness, they were probably not the biggest financial scandals of the year.

On Monday, David P. Weber, a law professor and certified fraud examiner who reviewed the Panama Papers and blew the whistle on investigative misconduct as an assistant inspector general for the Securities and Exchange Commission, wrote an op-ed for The Hill outlining some of the most significant corporate scandals of 2018 — and how they prove Congress needs to ensure greater oversight of the financial system.

Weber specifically points to the scandals at 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund accused of a $4.2 billion embezzlement and fraud scheme with help from legal and auditing firms and a Department of Justice lawyer; Operation Car Wash, the gigantic Brazilian money laundering scandal that has implicated hundreds of politicians including multiple presidents; and the ongoing revelations about how European banks involved in the Panama Papers scandal helped oligarchs and tax evaders steal money around the world.

Though these scandals all occurred overseas, Weber notes, they have all in some way landed on U.S. shores by implicating American businessmen and officials.

The 1MDB scandal, for instance, involved three Goldman Sachs bankers, resulting in criminal charges against the U.S. investment banking giant by Malaysian authorities, and according to The Wall Street Journal, a firm linked to the wife of former RNC official Elliott Broidy was allegedly in talks for a $75 million lobbying contract to persuade the Justice Department to back off investigating 1MDB (Broidy and his wife are not mentioned by name in any of the criminal proceedings). In the Operation Car Wash saga, meanwhile a lawsuit alleges that a U.S. law firm improperly held a “strategy session” with a Brazilian prosecutor.

And perhaps most shockingly, in the E.U. banking scandal, multiple legal officials with the federal government, including the former chief of top financial crimes investigation team FinCEN and the former Treasury undersecretary for counterterrorism, are now providing legal counsel to HSBC and Deutsche Bank, two institutions implicated in the scheme.

“When will Congress act to curtain misconduct by professionals?” laments Weber.

In general, white-collar crime has gone underinvestigated for years — which is arguably why Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and campaign chair Paul Manafort thought they could get away with bank fraud and tax evasion. But there is likely far more misconduct going on below the surface than we know. This year’s scandals reveal the need for a strong, serious enforcement regime, for the integrity of the financial system and the confidence of the public.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Off The Street

    The DNA of the Democratic Congress has too much influence from the Glass-Steagal repealers and the K Street kleptocrat enablers to pursue much meaningful legislation. Only when there is a combination of critical mass in Congress and a sustained public outcry will much progress be made. Until then, expect hearings and posturing but precious little tangible results.

    1. Andrew Thomas

      Forget the corporate democrats. Look at the senate. It is GOP controlled numerically, and McConnell controlled. Anything remotely sensible is DOA. This is unicorns ghost riding in the sky.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        But that doesn’t stop from using the power of subpoena or forcing the GOP Senate to say no to good policy. One might remember the embarrassment the GOP faced when they had to vote to repeal ACA and needed McCain to save them because they didn’t want to repeal it.

        With Democrats, its important to make them vote for good policy now and hold them account later.

        With the power of subpoena, bad actors can be exposed and vilified, making it easier to defeat bad politicians on the take.

        I know Harry Reid hasn’t been around in a while, and people have forgotten about the powder vaults. It was a terrible strategy then, and its a still a terrible strategy now.

        Because RFK was mentioned in the links, its important we demand our leaders and of ourselves that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  2. Marc Andelman

    To investigate corruption, you have to audit the biggest piles of money. Lets start with the half trillion in university endowments. Isn’t it odd that, according to the Panama papers, many of these are stashed in Bermuda. They are already tax free, so, why the need? A suspicious person would also wonder about the fact that the largest donors to university endowments are Wall Street. Are they really that altruistic. Think about it for a second. Giving to a university endowment engenders a tax write off. What if the university returns the favor, and, invests that money back where it came? What would that be called? There have been stories in the press, in the example of the University of Michigan about investment with donors. The last president of Harvard, a historian, recently took a job at Goldman Sachs. The remedy I would like to see would include auditing the endowments, court ordered breaking up of these huge piles of money, and, putting a few university presidents in jail. Somehow, one thinks of the French aristocrats of yore.

  3. jfleni

    The Nancy-crats will make sure that the rich get most of the gravy as always;
    screams of GIMME! are almost impossible to drown out! Ocasio-Cortez and her troops will just have to “go-along to get along! as a former speaker famously said!

  4. cocomaan

    I’ve got a 2019 prognostication for you, my first of the year:

    The Democrats will do almost nothing about this. When was the last time they did? Do we really think that someone like AOC, under a Nancy Pelosi regime, will focus at all on this kind of behavior when they can just beat the drum about investigating Trump? Many of these people have never been in congress before and are going to be extremely frustrated by the sausage making.

    Plus, many of the hardest hitting Democrats will be running for President, making their terms in congress even more toothless as they court donors to beat Trump.

  5. griffen

    I always need a good chuckle in the morning. Sure. Just like they done after 2009, believe they’ll act.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I think Rev Kev nailed this with the first half of headlines for April 2019:
      “In a surprise announcement, the Republican and Democrat parties say that they are going to amalgamate into one super party called the Progressives party. One operative stated ‘We have the same policies anyway’.” But I’m not so sure about the second half of his predictions for this month.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          True that. But it can be worked out through a merger of ownership with a few promotions and golden parachutes, just like any other Corporate merger.

  6. Tyronius

    Until the American People insist on getting corruption out of our political system, things will continue to deteriorate. I just don’t see that happening. In fact, I see more normalisation, habituation and tribalism making ever more excuses for corruption, to the detriment of all. For a concrete example, just look at the ‘work’ of the Senate Ethics Committee.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Not holding my breath. I get the impression that the press (journalists?) are about as dumb about finances and the economy as the average American, and the average American has allowed her/himself to be leveraged into rentier slavery without even realizing it until they lose their job or get hit with heavy medical bills. The problem seems to be that because swindling occurs so far from the checking account of the average schmuck, that people do not appreciate the violence of massive fraud and the impact on their finances and interest rates even when they are not directly victims.

  7. Iapetus

    It’s not clear whether current world governments have acquired the political will to actively seek out and crack down on major corruption. Whether this happens or not, I think the eventual exposure of many corrupt schemes is inevitable because of reckless and profligate actions by those who will always want more at any cost. My prediction is the biggest corruption scandal of 2019 will involve Saudi Arabia.

  8. Jeremy

    Elizabeth Warren splainin to folks how these dudes are operating will make for a juicy mess. In her position as Senator/Candidate, she might just get an audience she otherwise wouldn’t. I hope she’s up to that task as this is not a place where people play nice. I think Trump will defeat Trump. Most criminals choose a low profile. This genius has found THE most high profile job ever for his family “enterprise” and it’s a lot harder to gaslight the entire nation than it is a small group of ignorant “investors”. I just bought some stock in Oroville Redenbockers popcorn company. This is really going to be fun !!!

  9. Angie Neer

    >“When will Congress act to curtain misconduct by professionals?” laments Weber.

    Oh, “curtain” instead of “curtail” is just too wonderful a typo to correct. Congress: “Pay no attention to the professionals behind the curtain.”

  10. knowbuddhau

    Agreed! Call it the Obama Curtain. He used it like a true matador, bravely standing up for between us and the banks and skewering us good.

  11. knowbuddhau

    We can’t even get Pelosi to stop needlessly killing us, by thwarting M4A. I don’t expect her to stop dialing for dollars for a minute to “crack down” (is there a hammer for that, or is it a thunderbolt we’re talking?) on that to which she and her cohorts owe their powerful, lavish lifestyles.

    Is the CIA’s involvement in electoral politics, now more open than ever, corruption? Is waging several simultaneous illegal wars of aggression? Is subsidizing fossil fuels during the Sixth Mass Extinction? Is psyop’ing the populace?

    There’s precious little about the USG, here in the post-Kennedies era, that isn’t corrupt.

  12. rob

    considering that there is no chance of “the corrupt”, bearing anything but momentary inconveniences;the only thing to do is to document all the transgressions. If for no other reason than to have a hobby(everyone needs to have a hobby).
    Documented transgressions are at least a fossil to history for those with the inclination to look. Any and all crimes will be revised to the “official” version of history, in that the guilty will be everything from unwitting accomplices,or guilty by association only, to merely naive and not understanding the wrong they were doing while trying to do the right thing.
    Any and all semblance to reality will be denied by all parties involved,and the only people who count, will take these protestations of innocence at face value.And by keeping track of the transgressions of today, the loonies who do so will be writing the conspiracy theories of tomorrow.

  13. rob

    What the hell? since when can’t goldman sachs commit crimes?
    And when did congress EVER investigate to “PUNISH” criminals?
    Congress only has gathered evidence, none of which has ever been used to hold anyone accountable. But some of it is extremely interesting reading.It seems anything really useful in a timely manner for the public to know, is routinely “classified” , precisely so the public won’t know anything in a time frame of any usefulness.
    Look at when the senate investigated the claims of gov’t drug running in the iran contra days. Skull and bones men john kerry investigated skull and bonesmen george hw bushs team running hundreds of tons of cocaine into the country, supplying the bloods and crips and the crack epidemic of the eighties.And and all info was “classified” and in a decade or two from now, maybe we will know what was the story. Of course everyone involved will be dead. Even bill clinton who was gov. of arkansas at the time when the air force c-130’s were coming into mena arkansas air field loaded with cocaine. Or so the story goes. All the related principles are dead, and those who ran the stories are dead.
    Look at the congressional investigations of the american buisnesses who were collaborating with the nazi’s before ,during, and after WWII. They took till the eighties to come out. After everyone involved was dead. Now the principles at ford,general motors,dupont,standard oil,chase bank,ibm,ITT,and others claim these were just things done by people before the current leadership and public oversight, and therfore there is nothing to be done, nor apologized for.No one held accountable. Which may be true in a sense. But the timing is impotant. There would have been no ford motor co, classics of the sixties, if those people who were buying those cars realized what was done before during and after the war.(and the rockefellers,bushes,bakers,buckley’s,sloan’s,etc would have not had much of a voice to shape the twentieth century)
    ” charles hingham’s “Nazi -american money plot 1933-1949” was a great expose from back in 1983, of what had happened earlier. The truth of things can only be gleaned in the rear view mirror. After everyone is dead.
    The crimes of today will not be prosecuted or even illuminated, because too many people will be pissed. And we can’t have that now can we?

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