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April 9, 2014

Feds to Wall Street: Nobody’s Too Big to Jail

“Preet Bharara’s March 31 speech was little noticed outside a small gathering of legal and compliance executives in Manhattan. He delivered it on the day Wall Street and the financial news media were obsessing over the contention in Michael Lewis’s latest book that high-frequency traders have “rigged” the stock market.”

“In the speech, Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, gave his usual defense of the Justice Department’s strategy ofsettling cases with the big Wall Street banks instead of seeking criminal indictments.”

“Yet he also did something much rarer: He challenged the banks and their leaders to stop whining, fix their cultures, and begin a much-needed overhaul of how bankers, traders and executives get paid on Wall Street.”

“Bharara, a prosecutor who seems tailor-made for higher political office, has given many speeches since he took the job in 2010. In them, he usually extols his office’s enviable record of winning insider-trading cases — 80 and counting — and deflects criticism for failing to prosecute senior Wall Street bankers for their roles in the financial crisis.”

“His explanation for the dearth of prosecutions usually takes the form of: It’s not for a lack of trying but rather because of a lack of convincing evidence, which, by the way, we have seen and you have not. So trust us to do the right thing.”

“He did a little of that old song-and-dance at last week’s Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association forum: “Anyone who blithely opines that there is no deterrent — or other — value in holding institutions, as well as individuals, accountable is just plain wrong and may not fully understand how the world works. It makes a difference, and we have seen it make a difference.”

***

Read full Bloomberg View article here.

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