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Criminal justice is for the little people

If you’re going to commit a wrong today, it’s best to make it a really big wrong, so then you’ll probably get off scot-free. Consider the news of the last week. The financial regulator FSA investigating the RBS banking debacle which cost UK taxpayers £40bn concluded that the bank was run by misguided fools who made bad judgements, but broke no rules, so no action would be taken. Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa was revealed as claiming that the oil giant had inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian Government so that it exploited political channels in the oil-rich Niger Delta to its own advantage; but when Nigeria strenuously complained, no action was taken. It was disclosed that the day before Blair privately assured Bush he would back a US invasion of Iraq, he had been warned by his own Attorney General that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal; but so far no action has been taken. Just three examples in a week, and there are several others as follows.

The London operations of Madoff’s $50bn Ponzi scam were investigated by the SFO in February, but no action taken due to “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction”; it is only the liquidators of the fraudster’s empire who are now reopening the matter. When Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, were sued by the Nigerian federal authorities for harm caused by their new antibiotic in a meningitis epidemic, Pfizer retaliated by digging up and publishing evidence of corruption against the Nigerian Attorny General to get him to drop legal action; but no action was taken against Pfizer.

When DECC gave permission in September (following the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe) for deepwater drilling by Chevron near the Shetland Islands on the grounds that the Sectetary of State Huhne was “satisfied that the project is not likely to have a significant effect on the environment”and then a deepwater blowout promptly occurred which could beach 233,000 barrels of oil on the Shetlands and west Norway, no action was taken against those who irresponsibly took the decision before the causes of the BP disaster in the Gulf had been fully established. And of course the bankers, notably Fred Goodwin, who caused the monumental fiasco at RBS, the most costly and damaging corporate disaster in British history, have suffered no penalty at all. The list goes on.

Yet when students smash windows (which they should certainly not have done) in protesting against a trebling of tuition fees, there is an almighty ruckus. It is a mockery of justice in this country when the minnows are pounced on whilst the perpetrators of the most massive financial and corporate offences simply walk away with impunity.

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