Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chief U.S. financial regulator was awake the whole time

Nice to see the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hasn't lost its oft-admired sense of humor. Thursday's indictment of seven people, including a former Lehman Brothers salesman, for participating in an insider trading scheme that netted $4.8 million in illegal profits, demonstrates that federal regulators were not asleep at the Big Board when Wall Street bigwigs caused the nation's financial system to hemorrage at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. No, regulators knew enough to watch the salesman who tipped friends and relatives about 13 impending mergers -- Matthew Devlin, according to the Reuters international news service -- for a year before filing the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. $4.8 million. Maybe that's why U.S. regulators allowed billions of dollars worth of subprime mortgages to be traded back and forth so often they became securities to the world's largest banks, and were used to secure billions of dollars worth of more loans. The crash of the mortgage market is likely not even over yet, despite the multibillion-dollar rescue packages being prepared by countries around the world, and reverberations will likely be felt for many years. The crash even claimed venerable Lehman Brothers, which was forced to file for bankruptcy and sell part of itself to Barclays. But we all can rest assured. The SEC has not been asleep, and at least a couple of insider traders may be going to jail.

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