The case of the "NatWest 3" has been all a staple of the UK press
all year, but never seems to have got much traction on this side of the pond.
In a nutshell, three UK bankers were extradited to the US to face Enron-related
charges, despite the fact that the US showed no evidence of any crime. They’ve
a plea bargain, and Martin
Wolf is on top form:
To my mind, this system is tantamount to extracting confessions of guilt
under a form of psychological torture. That torture consists of the reasonable
fear of being found guilty and fear of the length of time one might then serve
in prison and of what might happen while one was there. All but exceptionally
brave people will confess to almost anything to escape even the possibility
of torture. In the same way, the majority of people would surely confess to
almost anything to avoid the possibility of spending the rest of their lives
in prison. Recognition of the meaninglessness of confessions extracted under
threat of torture was the main reason civilised jurisdictions abandoned its
use. The same objection applies to pleas of guilty made under the kind of
plea bargaining employed in the case of the NatWest three.
If the US legal system receives no respect even in the UK, then it is surely
badly broken. I am generally less opposed to harsh sentences for white-collar
criminals than most, on the grounds that most white-collar crimes go undetected,
most detected white-collar crimes go unprosecuted, and many prosecuted white-collar
crimes end in acquittal. Which means that punishments have to be harsh
if they’re to have any deterrent effect at all. But even I find it impossible
to justify the US prosecutors’ behavior in the NatWest 3 case.