On a Friday afternoon in November, the long story of the global economic crisis reached a milestone: More than a decade after the fact, a court convicted senior executives from major banks for crisis-era crimes. Outside of Iceland and Ireland, such convictions have been rare. In Milan’s judicial complex, the judge sentenced 13 former executives of Deutsche Bank, Nomura Holdings, and Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to prison terms as long as 7 ½ years. Significantly, these men hadn’t been convicted of causing any of the market losses that crippled the banking system in 2008. They’d been convicted of hiding them.
The cover-up wasn’t just worse than the crime. It was the crime. Deutsche Bank and Nomura had structured a complex set of derivatives that Monte Paschi used to erase about $800 million of red ink from its books. Today, as investors and regulators scan the horizon for the next threat, the Milan convictions are a reminder that the danger might not be visible through the fog of financial fakery.
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