The 5 Most Cartoonishly Evil Banks of All Time
If banks are evil, it's the most boring kind of evil possible. When they repossess a house, they do so with a form and a condescending tone, not a snake-themed helicopter and an anti-gravity ray. They may be the closest thing we have to a real-world villainous organization a la SPECTRE, but that's because the real world is friggin' tedious -- no bank is out there hiring hit squads and funding terrorism, right?
Well, actually ...
Nugan Hand Will Chop Your Family into Bits
On paper, the Australian bank Nugan Hand was a high-class establishment. Founded by a lawyer and an American ex-Green Beret with only $1,000 in seed money, they quickly expanded, serving the needs of prominent U.S. military brass, including two generals, an admiral, and a former CIA director. Banking with Nugan Hand was like depositing your paycheck at the Hall of Justice, if the Hall of Justice offered a sweet 16 percent interest rate on deposits and always smelled like vanilla and Febreze.
Which is unnecessary, since cash smells pretty damn good on its own.
Wait, 16 percent interest? Holy crap! Haha, how can they afford that? What are they doing with your money to be able to return that kind of interest? They must be funding friggin' drug runs with your paycheck or ohhhh crap.
That's exactly what they're doing, isn't it?
In retrospect, bank tellers don't typically ask you to "Show me that paper, son."
Yep. That ludicrously competitive interest rate was largely funded by the massive heroin operation they were running. Mike Hand, the former Green Beret, helped launch Nugan Hand as a cover for the $25 million he received from drug dealers, arms smugglers, and (possibly) the CIA, who may have been using the bank to fund covert operations in Eastern Asia. During their seven years of business, Nugan Hand stole at least $50 million from their investors. And it's not like you could get it back by coming in and berating the teller into refunding your unfair overdraft/embezzlement fees -- their boss once promised to chop up his employees' wives and mail the parts to them in a box, Se7en style, if they ever disobeyed him. That's a slightly more effective threat than your "I'll take my business elsewhere."
"We're not saying selecting 'Close Account' opens a trap door into spikes, but we're not saying it doesn't."
The whole thing eventually collapsed in 1980 with co-founder Francis Nugan's suicide, but if you're hoping this story ended with some swift and merciless justice, we're sorry: Aside from Nugan, pretty much everyone involved got off scot-free. Hand was last seen boarding a plane with a false beard, and all the remaining senior employees have refused to testify, which is something you're apparently allowed to do if you're rich enough.
This pretty much entitles you to refer to the district attorney as "my bitch."
As for its depositors, they lost everything. But honestly, if you do your banking with Nugan Hand -- the most plainly ominous business name this side of the Dark Brotherhood -- you were probably prepared for the inevitable dramatic double-cross.
"God's Banker" Funded Terrorism and Civil War
Founded in the 19th century with the backing of the Vatican, Banco Ambrosiano's mission was to provide an alternative to secular banks, because we all know that the only person you can trust more than a banker is a high-ranking official of the Catholic Church. A mere century of holy deposits later, they were the second-largest private bank in Italy. More than a bank, actually -- they were a sacred institution. In the 1970s, CEO Roberto Calvi was known as "God's banker."
"We've decided to waive that overdraft fee rather than risk being turned into pillars of salt."
Surely, with a title like that, nothing could go terribly and ironically wrong ...
God probably should've joined a credit union. Calvi used most of his time in charge of Banco Ambrosiano to launder the Mafia's drug money, bribe Italian and American politicians, and sell weapons to both sides of the Nicaraguan Civil War.
Sunday school songs feature "little children" instead of "violent Third World contras" for a reason.
Eventually, however, Banco Ambrosiano got too big for their own frock, and things started to fall apart. A 1982 investigation revealed that the bank could not account for around $1.3 billion in deposits. Keep in mind that, while today's banks blow that kind of cash on breakfast champagne and gold-leaf toilet paper, $1.3 billion in 1982 dollars was basically all of it. All of the money.
Even the Mafia got spooked by all the heat the holy bank was bringing. They started cutting both ties and the throats they were wrapped around: A high-ranking regulator was found dead in Corsica shortly before Calvi's secretary committed suicide, and Calvi himself was found hanging from Blackfriar's Bridge in London -- a death ruled a suicide until basic common sense and a 2003 re-examination uncovered that it was pretty definitely a murder.
"We'll rule it whatever you want, just keep this shit between yourselves."
If any of this sounds familiar, it's probably because parts of The Godfather: Part III were based on the scandal. That's right: terrorism, death, embezzlement, war, sinister political machinations, AND The Godfather: Part III. Truly, Banco Ambrosiano is responsible for some of the worst tragedies known to man.
BCCI Has a Secret Private Black Ops Force
The Bank of Credit and Commerce International was established in 1972 and soon became one of the largest private financial institutions in the world, with deposits of over $20 billion and clients like the United Arab Emirates government. At its peak, it had 400 branches in 72 countries around the world. But as anybody who's broken a controller in the Lost Woods can tell you, just because something has a lot of branches, that doesn't mean you can trust it.
Unfortunately, "up, left, down, left" seldom works in international finance.
Banks are like vomit: They're pretty easy to take care of when contained in one place, but once you spread them over a wide enough area, everyone just pretends they can't see the mess, rather than risk having to clean it up.
We, uh ... look, nobody said we were good roommates.
Back to the banks. Being no one's responsibility gave BCCI free rein to embark on a massive crime spree that would make Grand Theft Auto proud: laundering money for Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, brokering illegal nuclear weapons sales, selling top-secret American technology to Iraq, running one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history, and doing the financial dirty work for virtually every major terrorist group in the world.
Plus the customer service line is, like, a 45-minute wait. We just need to order checks, you monsters!
They stopped just shy of spawning a tank and ramping it into a prostitute. BCCI even started their own private enforcement squad called the Black Network (Cobra Commander would be so proud) to take care of all the extortion, kidnapping, and murder that is apparently such a big part of tracking deposited money. When suspicious U.S. regulators refused to grant them a banking license (our banks usually don't have elite, shadowy fighting forces -- it really hikes up the insurance rates), BCCI just shrugged and employed some front companies and fraudulent loans to circumvent the law, and got right back to evilin' up the place.
"This ought to fool that crafty Federal Reserve."
BCCI's massive network of influence kept them consistently just a few steps ahead of the law. In the end, it took 62 countries conducting seven simultaneous raids to finally bring them down and 13 years to sort out where the money was. Even now, no one fully understands everything BCCI was up to, but we would be shocked -- shocked -- if it didn't involve some kind of laser and a moon base.
Castle Bank Stole John Fogerty's Mansion Money
Castle Bank & Trust just oozed class and legitimacy. Not only did they attract high-profile celebrity clients like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hugh Hefner, and the Hyatt chain of hotels, but they were centrally located in the freaking Bahamas. Would a gargantuan and malevolent organization have access to such bitchin' beaches? We ask you -- do these Mai Tais taste evil?
It's hard to be sinister in a straw hat.
In the early 1970s, someone at the IRS realized that Hyatt hadn't paid any taxes since they opened their account at Castle Bank. This is generally frowned upon in polite society, as Mssrs. Hammer and Nelson can testify. So the IRS hired a grizzled private investigator named Norman Casper to look into it, because if there's one lesson we've learned in this article, it's that accounting is WAY more exciting than we've all been led to believe. Over the next few months, Casper distracted his targets with beautiful women while he photographed their secret files and gathered intelligence. Using the old "squick and click" method, Casper discovered that not only was the bank acting as an illegal tax haven for clients like former President Nixon, it was also laundering money for the friggin' mob.
This might not have been the ideal spokesman in 1977.
Then, out of nowhere, the CIA stepped in and stopped the investigation.
Turns out the CIA had used Castle Bank & Trust to funnel money to anti-Castro groups (and anyone else with a big enough haterection for the communists). No one was ever prosecuted, but the bank collapsed, and all of their clients (including CCR) lost their deposits. And that's why Creedence Clearwater Revisited has to rock your shitty county fair to this very day.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Doesn't Care
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was founded in the 19th century to handle British profits from the opium trade. And given that China had several million opium addicts and the British responded to any attempts to ban the drug by murdering everyone who looked at them funny, those profits were considerable. But, hey, that's all ancient history, right? It's not like you have a little card in your wallet right now that says HSBC on it ...Oh.
We're very disappointed in you, A Citizen.
If you've ever talked to their customer service people about their BS "annual fee," it should come as no surprise that HSBC was founded on centuries of murder for profit. In 2012, investigators discovered that they had been helping fund international terrorism and the Mexican drug trade for decades. It wasn't an occasional thing, either. Here's the extent of their familiarity with the cartels: At one point HSBC considered enlarging their teller windows because the boxes of cash they were accepting were too big to fit through the normal ones (possibly the least sympathetic problem we've ever heard of). So the Sinaloa Cartel (responsible for tens of thousands of murders in the past decade alone) did their old pals a solid and started using custom-designed money boxes specifically to fit through HSBC branch windows.
Carpeting meant to hide stains left by patrons dripping blood was more of a branch-to-branch thing.
So if they're so blatantly corrupt, why hasn't anybody caught them? The answer is simple: They totally have! Many, many times. You've heard of the term "too big to fail"? Well, here's an addendum: "... and too rich to give a damn when they do."
When HSBC was caught a third time, the authorities got serious and handed them a $1.9 billion fine. Staggering, right?
But what's 21 tons of cash between friends?
That's roughly five weeks' profit for HSBC.
Again, nobody went to prison for this blatant money laundering. They didn't get grounded, or even sent to their room without supper; they just had their allowance docked for like a month. That wouldn't teach an uppity child not to shoplift, much less a major financial institution that supporting mass murderers isn't profitable. When asked why these people are allowed to Snidely Whiplash their way around the country with no repercussions, the U.S. assistant attorney general explained, "Had the U.S. decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized."
We're sure thousands of grieving families were cool with that answer.
So there you go, straight from the mouth of the U.S. government itself: Banks can do whatever they want, because they have our money. If you're considering canceling your HSBC card in light of these revelations, well, we're sure they'll cry themselves to sleep over it. Maybe they can fit some bigger windows to get those extra-large boxes of tissues in there.
Related Reading: If all this fiscal fuckery has you bitter about banks, read this article about incredible heists. Like the time Swedish robbers reenacted Die Hard at a Post Office. And money isn't the only thing you can store in a bank: you can fit a ton of sperm in one. Unless you're a ginger, runt or minority! Last, balance things out by reading about life in poverty.