Letting No Disaster Go To Waste, SEC Prepares To Let Lehman Executives Walk For Repo 105 Fraud

Tyler Durden's picture

And while the general public frets over the latest geopolitical disasters, the SEC proves Rahm Emanuel correct once again, and letting no disaster go to waste, man-made or natural, the world's most incompetent (but massively underpaid, or so they claim) regulator is preparing to let Dick Fuld completely off the hook for last spring's stunning Repo 105 report by Anton Valukas, whose findings even the bankruptcy expert said were probably cause for civil lawsuits. The WSJ reports: "In recent months, Securities and Exchange Commission officials have grown increasingly doubtful they can prove that Lehman violated U.S. laws by using an accounting maneuver to move as much as $50 billion in assets off its balance sheet, which made it appear that the securities firm had reduced its debt levels....After zeroing in last summer on the battered real-estate portfolio and an accounting move known as Repo 105, SEC officials have grown more worried they could lose a court battle if they bring civil charges that allege Lehman investors were duped by company executives. The key stumbling block: The accounting move, while controversial, isn't necessarily illegal." Oh no, illegal it is. The problem is that should the SEC actually pursue it and win, that act would open up the floodgates for hundreds of lawsuits against everyone from Bank of America and Citi, which have also disclosed they used comparable tactics to misrepresent the true status of their books, to shady accounts like Ernst & Young, all the way to FASB at the very top of the corruption pyramid. And with hundreds of millions if not billions in legal fees about to be paid out if the fraudclosure back door settlement fails, the SEC simply can not allow the pursuit of justice to threaten the viability of America's only national interest: that of its criminal banking syndicate.

From the WSJ:

A year ago, it looked as if the SEC and federal prosecutors had a road map to use against Lehman's former top executives. Last March, the Repo 105 transactions were condemned by court-appointed examiner Anton R. Valukas, who said in a report that they enabled Lehman to "paint a misleading picture of its financial condition."

In the transactions, Lehman swapped fixed-income assets for cash shortly before the securities firm reported quarterly results, promising to buy back the securities later. The cash was used to pay down the company's debts. Emails sent by executives at the company referred to Repo 105 as a "drug" and "basically window dressing."

Mr. Valukas concluded there were "colorable," or credible, legal claims against Ernst & Young, Mr. Fuld and former finance chiefs Ian Lowitt, Erin Callan and Christopher O'Meara.

People close to the investigation cautioned that no decision has been reached on whether to bring civil charges, adding that new evidence still could emerge. Investigators are reviewing thousands of documents turned over to the SEC since it began its probe shortly after Lehman tumbled into bankruptcy in September 2008 and was sold off in pieces. Officials also have questioned a number of former Lehman executives, some of them multiple times, the people said.

But after zeroing in last summer on the battered real-estate portfolio and an accounting move known as Repo 105, SEC officials have grown more worried they could lose a court battle if they bring civil charges that allege Lehman investors were duped by company executives. The key stumbling block: The accounting move, while controversial, isn't necessarily illegal.

In a possible sign that the probe has slowed, the SEC hasn't issued a Wells notice to Lehman's longtime auditor, Ernst & Young, according to people familiar with the situation. The firm had concluded that the accounting in the Repo 105 transactions was acceptable. Wells notices are a formal signal that the SEC's enforcement staff has decided it might file civil charges against the recipient.

The snags are the latest sign of trouble for the SEC and other U.S. regulators trying to punish companies and executives at the center of the financial crisis. So far, no high-profile executives have been successfully prosecuted. Last month, a federal criminal investigation of former Countrywide Financial Corp. Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo was closed without charges.

The punchline:

It isn't clear what the Lehman executives have said to SEC officials during the probe. Last year, Mr. Fuld told lawmakers he had "absolutely no recollection whatsoever of hearing anything" about Repo 105 at the time of the transactions. Lehman's demise was caused by "uncontrollable market forces" and the U.S. government's unwillingness to rescue the firm, he said.

In other words, with everyone complicit on the crime, there is not one party that can be singled out without every party having to be sued. Ah the benefits of risk diversification: Wall Street realized all too well that a symbiotic approach to middle class parasitism is the best one, as it leaves it far less open to direct attack. Yes, any given bank may reap slightly less in benefits immediately, but over the long run everyone makes money and if there is some catastrophe the taxpaying peasant will have no choice but to bail everyone out. And should there be a legal case against one, in a reverse case of the Three Musketeers, it would have to be a case against all. 2008 confirmed the first. Dick Fuld is confirming the second. But don't forget - the SEC has no money and no computers. So it is isn't their fault they are corrupt and siding with the criminals on this one... and on every other one.

Expect Charles Ferguson's question of why nobody has ever gone to jail over the greatest financial crisis since the depression to remain unanswered in this lifetime.