It’s come to something when the Assistant Attorney-General of the United States, responsible for overseeing the country’s federal prosecutors, doesn’t just think this way. Doesn’t just act this way. But actually feels comfortable standing up in a public forum, sharing this, and then publishing it on an official website (and h/t Naked Capitalism):
To be clear, the decision of whether to indict a corporation, defer prosecution, or decline altogether is not one that I, or anyone in the Criminal Division, take lightly. We are frequently on the receiving end of presentations from defense counsel, CEOs, and economists who argue that the collateral consequences of an indictment would be devastating for their client. In my conference room, over the years, I have heard sober predictions that a company or bank might fail if we indict, that innocent employees could lose their jobs, that entire industries may be affected, and even that global markets will feel the effects. Sometimes – though, let me stress, not always – these presentations are compelling… Those are the kinds of considerations in white collar crime cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must play a role in responsible enforcement.
I just want to be clear here. This is the man responsible for overseeing the prosecution of white-collar crime in the most powerful country on Earth, stating in a public forum that what keeps him up at night is deciding whether that lawyer or CEO from the big corporation who popped by his office to defend a crime-committing corporation made a “compelling” case that they should just drop the whole matter. The general context is a speech extolling the virtues of “non-prosecution agreements,” which are the U.S. Department of Justice’s equivalent to a letter of warning from Elections Canada
Even as right-wing governments prattle on about the virtues of minimum sentences, heavy jail terms, and various other tools of justice, they are increasingly reluctant even to impose the lightest of all possible sentences on corporate criminals and other white-collar ne’er-do-wells. Recently in Canada, for instance, the Competition Bureau announced that a company had been found guilty of rigging government bids. It paid a fine which looks to my uneducated eye to be equal to one-third of the value of the contracts it won through these means, and then was slapped with court order stating — hilariously — that the company was not allowed to break the law again.
Apparently the good folks at the Competition Bureau, like their colleagues at the American DOJ, feel that corporations need not even be obliged to follow the law unless they are specifically orderd to do so.
The politicians get their own kickbacks from this system, of course. Take the celebrated case of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Charged with flagrantly ignoring the office-holder’s ethics code, Ford’s argument is that he need not be held guilty because he never bothered to read the code, and because his lawyer never brought it to his attention either.Tweet