How to Put Wall Street CEOs in Prison
“Forgive me,’’ director Charles Ferguson said in receiving an Academy Award for his documentary Inside Job, "I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail — and that’s wrong.''
In New York, Tuesday marked the beginning of the long awaited trial of hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who ran the $7 billion Galleon Group and whose personal wealth is estimated at $1.3 billion. He is being prosecuted by the SEC for insider trade deals. Rajaratnam is said to have made $45 million in illegal profits. He has denied the charges and is free on $100 million bond. If he is convicted he could go to prison for as long as 20 years. The SEC historically has been such a handmaiden of the finance business that it's hard to imagine anything serious coming out of its prosecutions, but one never knows.
Whatever happens to Rajaratnam, it would be simple enough to prosecute many of the high rollers on first civil, then criminal charges, fining them millions of dollars and taking them out of circulation for up to 20 years.
"Contrary to prevailing propaganda, there is a fairly straightforward case that could be launched against the CEOs and CFOs of pretty much every US bank with major trading operation," writes Yves Smith in her popular Naked Capitalism blog. "I'll call them 'dealer banks' or 'Wall Street firms' to distinguish them from very big but largely traditional commercial banks.’’ She proceeds to lay out the case, the key points of which I have excerpted below:
Since Sarbanes Oxley became law in 2002, Sections 302, 404, and 906 of that act have required these executives to establish and maintain adequate systems of internal control within their companies. In addition, they must regularly test such controls to see that they are adequate and report their findings to shareholders (through SEC reports on Form 10-Q and 10-K) and their independent accountants. “Knowingly” making false section 906 certifications is subject to fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment of up to ten years; “willful” violators face fines of up to $5 million and jail time of up to 20 years.
The officers in question must certify that, among other things, they "are responsible for establishing and maintaining internal controls" and making sure everyone concerned knows about them--and beyond that, for taking steps to have these controls evaluated and reported. Smith continues: