Toxic US corporate culture remains: TARP watchdog


Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 15

Five years after the US financial crisis forced the massive government Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout, the US corporate culture remains toxic and breeding crime, the watchdog for the bailout program said yesterday.

More than 300 people in the banking, housing and securities industries are in the hands of the criminal system, whether it is a charge, a conviction or a sentencing, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) said in a quarterly report to US Congress.

“The financial system has stabilized, but the toxic corporate culture that led up to the crisis and TARP has not sufficiently changed,” TARP Special Inspector General Christy Romero said.

“At the core of the crisis was a pervasive culture at institutions of rampant risktaking and greed combined with significant unchecked power,” she said.

SIGTARP was launched in early 2009 to detect fraud in the massive TARP bailout program. Within weeks of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the government set up the US$700 billion TARP to prop up the collapsing financial system. In 2010, the cap on the US Department of the Treasury’s authority to purchase and guarantee assets under TARP was reduced to US$475 billion.

To date, 65 people have been sentenced to prison for their crimes investigated by SIGTARP and its law enforcement partners, 112 have been convicted and await sentencing and 154 individuals have been criminally charged and face trial on those charges, the report said.

In addition, 60 people have been banned from their industries.

“Many of these defendants were at the highest levels of banks or companies that applied for or received TARP bailout money. They were trusted to exercise good judgment and make sound decisions. However, they abused that trust. Many times they abused that trust for their own personal benefit,” the report said.

As of Sept. 30, the Treasury had US$30.7 billion in write-offs, losses or money not collectible from the program, according to the report.

“Treasury’s write-offs and realized losses are money that taxpayers will never get back. Treasury generally expects the amounts currently not collectible will also be lost,” the agency said.

The watchdog was harshly critical of the Treasury’s oversight of the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), set up in February 2010 to help families in places hurt the most by the housing crisis.

The Treasury allocated US$7.6 billion in TARP funds for the HHF program in 18 states and Washington DC, administered by local authorities.

However, states have reduced their proposed numbers of homeowners needing help, and the Treasury has ignored the SIGTARP’s conclusions of an audit reported in April last year.