New bank leaks: an eu financial police force is needed

The new scandal does not hit "the banks" but clearly identifiable players. A European financial police and tougher penalties could help against it.

Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt’s banking district Photo: Arne Dedert/dpa

The depressing thing about the new money laundering scandal at major international banks is: this is a failure of a system that could work. What is at stake is the fact that an international team of journalists has been leaked suspicious money laundering reports that are in the possession of the U.S. investigative agency FinCEN.

They show that major banks such as Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and HSBC have funneled hundreds of billions of dollars in suspicious funds through the financial systems. Money that was probably generated through human trafficking, drugs, arms smuggling or corruption.

Banks have been able to track down suspicious transfers for years – and there are government agencies where this information ends up, which should actually lead to criminal investigations. But for the most part, nothing has happened. Illegal, shit: States make fools of themselves when it comes to prosecuting organized financial crime. Then it’s better to legalize it. Terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering.

Seriously, there is a great danger that the public will become jaded. The fact that banks can be criminals is part of general knowledge, and that is the problem. The scandal does not affect "the banks" or "the system. But rather some clearly identifiable players and American authorities, who seem to be sitting on a mountain of information about financial crime.

There is a cure for such scandals: a European financial police force, as demanded by EU parliamentarians around the Green Party’s Sven Giegold, and tougher penalties. Anyone who, metaphorically speaking, carries suitcases of money around for criminals is guilty of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting – and if the guilt cannot be attributed to individual persons, the institution must be hit so hard that money laundering becomes unthinkable as a business model.

The withdrawal of the banking license, as demanded by the SPD, on the other hand, is populist nonsense, because precisely those globally active, criminal banks would be protected from it because of their size and complexity, which would have to be hit.