Pressure heaped on Barclays bank

Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) has released a stinging critique on UK banking giant Barclays, who have been fined some US$300 million by US courts for violating sanctions.

In a press release the TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “It’s a disgrace that Barclays has been violating US sanctions and doing business in Burma. Foreign financial services are helping Burmese generals to loot the country’s natural wealth and to fund a military accused of committing horrendous crimes against humanity.”

Since DVB covered the story it has been revealed that only US$460,000 – a relatively small amount of the total money that was laundered for sanctioned institutions by the bank – was from Burma. The other countries listed in the case were Cuba, Iran, Libya and Sudan.

It has also transpired however that some of the transactions were processed in the EU, raising the question of why the bloc has so far taken no action against the bank, and why it has seemingly not enforced sanctions in a stricter manner, if at all. Barclays, as well as Lloyds and Abn Amro, have all been charged in US courts with sanctions-related infringements, and all three are EU-based.

“It is a cause for concern that it took the US sanctions system to discover the shameful activities of a British bank. The UK and the EU urgently need to fix our weak rules. We need to put in place US-style financial sanctions and a rigorous monitoring system to prevent these sorts of scandals from happening again” Barber asserted.

It comes at a time when trust in financial institutions is at an all-time low after their operations had a catastrophic effect on the global economy, with the effects felt hardest in western economies. Furthermore, the news came out shortly after Britain’s new prime minister, David Cameron, pledged to aid the cause of democracy in Burma.

The General Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB), Maung Maung, added: “This scandal must be a wake-up call for the UK government. We already know that insurance syndicates within Lloyds of London have been doing business in Burma, and now Barclays. What else has the City of London been up to? The UK government needs to investigate this fully and cut off all financial and insurance links to the regime.”

Meanwhile the European Parliamentary Caucasus on Burma (EPCB), which represents MPs from 15 European countries, added their weight to calls for a UN commission of enquiry into the alleged crimes of the junta, urging EU states to officially back the call.

The enquiry “would allow a thorough investigation and documentation of these crimes, along with the formation of recommendations on future actions and policies, is a crucial step that the international community should support,” it said.

The impetus for the call for the enquiry came from Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma who, after stating that “gross and systematic” crimes against humanity and war crimes were being committed by the junta, has been banned from visiting the country.

The Barclays case will also raise concerns about banking practices, as no prosecutions were made and the bank “cooperated” with courts and paid US$298 charge. “In conducting this investigation, Barclays worked closely and constructively with the US Authorities. The US Authorities have recognised Barclays substantial cooperation in the resolution,” a press release from the bank said.

Despite the recession, banks continue to find themselves in powerful positions, able to effectively avoid prosecution through pay-outs and through “working closely” with bodies whom the public has charged with the responsibility of prosecuting offenders, and not sheltering guilty parties.

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