Did We Just Find Someone to Take On the Banks?

To see how the federal government has pursued money-laundering cases against big banks over their dealings with Iran and other countries under U.S. trade sanctions, consider what happened when Barclays Plc (BARC) and the Justice Department were required to file reports describing the U.K. bank’s cooperation under a settlement in 2010.

The deadline came and went. Barclays and the Justice Department failed to comply, infuriating U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington, who had ordered that the reports be filed. “I am amazed that with all the legal talent before the court that no one opened the order to read it,” he said. A Justice Department attorney, Kevin Gerrity, told the judge he couldn’t explain the lapse. Before approving Barclays’s deferred-prosecution agreement, Sullivan called it a “sweetheart deal.” Barclays paid $298 million, its core business was unscathed, and no executives were charged.

Standard Chartered Plc (STAN) can only dream of having such a light touch for an adversary. This week, the New York State Department of Financial Services threatened to revoke Standard Chartered’s state banking license — far more serious than a mere fine — after accusing the U.K. bank of using its New York office to illegally launder $250 billion for Iranian financial institutions, including Iran’s central bank.

Refreshing Change

Although it’s hard to imagine the department’s superintendent, Benjamin Lawsky, carrying out his threat, it’s refreshing to see anyone in a position of authority even go through the motions of fully enforcing the law against a big bank. Lawsky, 42, has every bit as much standing to pursue such a case as his counterparts in the federal government do.

Rest here…