Pardon me while I yawn. The measly fine that Citigroup is paying to settle civil complaints charging that the bank defrauded investors is really something else: it's a stay-out-of-jail, keep-your-reputation card for Robert Rubin and a lot of other senior Citi officials, past and present. Instead, this deal--as was true with the miniscule fines levied on JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs--is ultimately about letting the real culprits get away with a massive scheme, leaving minor actors holding the bag and workers' pensions out of luck.
So, first thefig-leaf:
Citigroup on Wednesday agreed to pay $285 million to settle a civil complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had defrauded investors who bought just such a deal. The transaction involved a $1 billion portfolio of mortgage-related investments, many of which were handpicked for the portfolio by Citigroup without telling investors of its role or that it had made bets that the investments would fall in value.
The settlement will refund investors with interest and include a $95 million fine — a relative pittance for a giant like Citigroup. On Monday, the company reported that in the third quarter alone it earned profits of $3.8 billion on revenue of $20.8 billion.
This is a pittance. And this is probably the only sentence worth reading:
But the case highlights a growing frustration felt by foreclosed homeowners, investors and Wall Street protesters alike that few, if any, senior banking executives have faced criminal charges for losses growing out of the financial crisis. [emphasis added]
Which brings us to Robert Rubin, a former vice-chair of Citi during the years leading up to the financial crisis. In March, I looked at Robert Rubin's rolein the financial crisis, a role that goes back to the Clinton Administration where he played a central part in undoing sane financial regulation. His whole persona and ego were wrapped up in his role as a major "fixer": a Wall Street Democrat who could be an emissary to all corners of the political and economic world. He was, along with his political patron, Bill Clinton, seen as the architect of the economic "good years" in the 1990s.
After the financial crisis, he spent the past 2-3 years, evading his responsibility for the financial crisis, (mainly, in his role at Citigroup) by blaming others and, then, dropping below the radar screen. And it could be said, after reading his sworn testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, that he outright lied; if not lies of an indictable nature, then, certainly he had a convenient loss of memory and recollection.
You can read my analysis of his testimony and judge for yourself.
The point today is: Rubin escaping indictment for the role he played--at the minimum, asleep at the wheel at Citi while collecting millions of dollars in compensation--is a pattern of our system letting those who caused the collapse to skate, while leaving little minnows holding the bag.
In the group of "minnows", by the way, are the pension funds of workers--pension funds devastated by the financial crisis. Six New York State and city pension funds alone lost more than $750 million in Citi alone--that's three-quarters of a billion dollars of workers' deferred wages.
$285 million does not come close to recouping workers' losses--and none of that money, or at most a smidgen, appears likely to end up with the pension funds.
There was a crime.
And the only people paying the costs of the crime are the people who had no hand in the crime.