Elizabeth Warren has a question: How much money does a bank have to launder before people go to jail?
Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts and financial-regulatory maven, posed that question numerous times to financial regulators at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday on banks and money laundering.
In December, U.S. Justice Department officials announced that HSBC, Europe's largest bank, would pay a $1.92 billion fine after laundering $881 million for drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. At the time, the Justice Department disputed accusations that it views some banks as too big to prosecute.
The two regulators, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen and Federal Reserve Governor Jerome H. Powell, deflected Warren's questions, saying that criminal prosecutions are for the Justice Department to decide.
"If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you're going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life," an exasperated Warren said, as she wrapped up her questioning. "But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night - every single individual associated with this - and I just think that's fundamentally wrong."