What is it with Corporate Crime?

That the President Elect’s de facto admission of fraud in agreeing a £20 million+ payout in the so called Trump University settlement on November 18th received minimal press coverage is probably not surprising given the litany of ludicrous and dangerous public pronouncements of his election campaign. It was just another day at the office.


Nigel Baker

The President Elect of course has a catalogue of civil and criminal judgements against his various companies – so what’s one more? Indeed in respect of big business and corporate illegality there is nothing particularly special about Trump, in fact he really is little league – the ‘People’s fraudster’ perhaps.

The acceptance of corporate illegality is just one particularly dispiriting and ignominious feature of our neoliberal world. Never before has the maxim ‘rules were meant to be broken’ been more apposite. Known corporate illegality  (that is the total value of corporate fines and legal settlements) in just the last decade runs in to £100s of billions. A few examples from some of the more criminally inclined corporate sectors; banking and pharmaceuticals are:

JP Morgan was fined $35,241,500,000 in a three-and-a-half year period between 2011 and 2014. It’s (non-exhaustive) list of crimes include: currency manipulation, collusion, cover-ups, mis-selling, deceit, mortgage misrepresentation and foreclosure abuse and bid-rigging.

Meanwhile, since 2008, the UK’s five largest banks alone, have coughed-up over £25 billion in fines levied upon them by various regulatory agencies around the world. Like Morgan, UK banks are serial and repeat offenders and like Morgan no senior executive has ever faced criminal charges.

As regards the pharmaceutical giants, between 1991 and 2015 they have paid out some $35.7 billion in criminal and civil fines in the US alone. leading the list were our very own Glaxo Smith Kline and the US’s Pfizer with approximately  $8 billion and $4 billion paid out respectively. Britain’s other leading Pharmaceutical, Astra-Zeneca also managed to top $1 billion. The list of  collective misdemeanours includes: unlawful promotion (marketing drugs for unauthorised and potentially dangerous uses), overcharging government health programmes (screwing the taxpayer), monopoly practices, concealing data (about the safety and efficacy of drugs), environmental violations and kickbacks (bribes).

Like the vast majority of corporations, the two sectors routinely engage in tax evasion and spend £100s of millions on lobbying. UK banks have been handed a further staggering £850 billion in taxpayer/government bailouts for the crisis they themselves caused.

Pharmaceutical corporations meanwhile demonstrate their sense of priorities by typically spending 1.5 – 2 x as much on marketing than research, and we shouldn’t forget the thousands of premature deaths and unnecessary suffering resulting from the falsification and cover-up that allows dangerous and ineffective drugs onto the market.

And yet not only do these organisations continue to make huge profits, pay their senior executives and other nefarious wide-boys salaries and bonuses into £100s of thousands and beyond, but to cap it all these mafia like institutions and their bosses are lauded as great British successes and role-models – even the banks. Whilst the traditional mafia bosses are either behind bars or at least being pursued by the law, our corporate mafia routinely receive lordships, knighthoods and other prestigious honours for their services to the country. Notwithstanding the possibility of genuine individual merit unconnected to the bank; Barclays current board, for example, boasts 3 CBEs and one knight.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca’s executive vice-president berated the Government in October, claiming that “To continue to get the research and investment here, you have to pay for the drugs. Research and adoption of clinical innovation go hand in hand and the Government has to be prepared to pay for treatments that work.” Perhaps if Astra-Zeneca stopped spending 70% more on marketing than research, and avoided $1 billion fines/settlements for illegality they could make their drugs more affordable.

Is it any wonder that people are angry and frustrated when illegal activity is no more than a business expense, and that the leaders of these semi-criminal organisations are feted as role models and ladled with cash? But worse still, why is no one that bothered?

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