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The Bank Tribunal in Berlin

by Wolfgang Lieb Friday, Apr. 30, 2010 at 3:59 AM

Even today most radical market liberals do not see beyond their ideological blinders and explain the financial market crisis as a state breakdown. The financial catastrophe is a fiasco of their religious doctrine. The catastrophe plunged the dominant economy into a crisis of meaning.


By Wolfgang Lieb

{This opening address at the Bank Tribunal on April 10, 2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,

From April 9-11, 2010 Attac Germany and the Berlin People’s Theater organized a public tribunal to illuminate the causes of the financial crash, the distortion of democracy through dubious bailout measures and the careless preparation of new crises.]

We come together to charge the financial system and the politicians, experts and opinion-makers for their offenses. In their intrigues, greater and more irreparable damage was done than through all other “capital” crimes altogether. Compared to the disastrous worldwide effects of the financial crisis, the terrible damage caused by organized crime or the Mafia seem like petty larceny.

Three- or four-digit billions in lost assets occurred. Millions of people were threatened in their existence; their jobs and their social security were put at risk. Families were destroyed and the physical and mental health of countless children and adults harmed. The public treasuries will be plu8ndered in the next decades even beyond the billions in subsidies and inconceivably high credit guarantees. While all this is incalculable, the largest part of the debt burden must be paid by those who dealt with financial management when they had to take a credit. Many generations will have to bear the debts and interest burdens.

Unfortunately neither the people’s representatives nor courts have brought charges in the name of the people. What place would be more appropriate than a People’s Theater!

Our basic law entitles us to accuse. The people obviously must bring charges themselves. Article 20 of the German Basic Law says: “All state authority comes from the people.” The people must take back their sovereignty and bring charges. That is the only way left in view of the failure of the institutions called to supervision and restitution that were complicit in aiding and abetting criminal machinations. The rebellion of the people is the command of the hour. This signal should start from Attac’s Bank Tribunal.

The organizers asked me not to waste speaking time with expressions of4 thanks. Still I speak in all your names when I heartily thank attac, the People’s Theater and all supporters for their preliminary work over months in making this tribunal possible. I thank all the witnesses and all the experts for their participation.

The people gathered here do not represent any state- or economic power. But we have an inestimable advantage: we are free from financial and other interests. We are independent. We are the afflicted. This gives us the legitimacy to enlighten the conspiracy of financial capital, politics and opinion-making to the burden of millions upon millions of people. We want to address and discuss facts and circumstances hidden or veiled by the power elites. We understand ourselves as advocates of the victims and want to give a voice to the great majorities of the affected so this majority may enforce its interests against the supposedly powerful. We will show how our country and most parts of other countries in the world fell into the clutches of an unscrupulous financial management that conceals its true character by following the logic of the Mafia.

The crime thriller or detective play took place in the most elegant circles of the executive floors of this world, not in a shady backstreet underworld. The people who cream off the profits up to 400-times an average worker’s compensation were even secretly admired as “achievers.” The highest representatives of the state even organized birthday parties for them. The Mafia businesses could flourish because the very well-off had and have an interest in “fast money.”

The “rogue economy” was concealed under the mantle “free enterprise.” A market economy based on the dogma of deregulation got rid of all regulations. Large parts of the banking world uncoupled from democratic institutions and society and established a virtually neo-feudal rule of unrestrained greed for profit beyond the grasp of jurisdiction. Bankers did “God’s work,” the head of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein said. Insatiable speculators stylized themselves the “masters of the universe” not6 plagued any more by any kind of consciousness of injustice and have the arrogant idea that rules are only for “those below.”

The difficult task of this tribunal will be to tear off the character masks and make visible the true face of the perpetrators and their accomplices.

While enlightened critical analyses and enlightened individual opinions are not lacking, the Bank Tribunal is irreplaceable because it is the first common attempt to help morality and justice breakthrough in the general public.

Someone had to do this because nearly everyone failed up to now in the illumination of this conspiracy and its control: banks, politics, academia, the media and the law.

The Bank Tribunal is irreplaceable because the bankers cover up or hush up almost everything. Financial investors defrauded and deceived in the conventional sense and managed to rob all of us by privatizing their gigantic profits and socializing their losses.

Many financial consultants knew or suspected the risks of the certificates that they offered their clients but stood under massive sales pressure of their bosses. They used their authority, pretended a false security and gave advantages to themselves and others. That establishes the fact of fraud.

The banks packaged toxic mortgage credits and treated them as profitable innovative financial products. Others resold these bundled toxic claims which they knew were not worth their price. In colloquial language, this is called receiving stolen goods.

That the bankers knew exactly what they did appeared at the latest when their chain letters were exposed. Suddenly they no longer trusted their way and stopped lending money to one another.


As can be read in the protocol of the night session to bailout Hypo Real Estate, Deutsche Bank head Ackermann threatened the “death of the German banking system” when he and the assembled top bankers by telephone forced the first installment of 8.5 billion in state funds from the chancellor and the finance minister. The assembled bankers knew that evening that this was only the first part payment or payment on account.

Enriching oneself by threatening evil at the expense of another satisfies the condition of extortion.

We know the further course. In the pull-tug-jerk process under bankers’ instruction, a so-called bank bailout parachute was opened with 400 billion as a refinancing guarantee, 80 billion in capital assistance and a stabilization fund – SoFFin – is still withdrawn from genuine democratic control today. Over a trillion in tax funds – more than one and one-half times the Federal German budget and more than a fifth of the annual output of the German economy – is given to those who caused the crisis without any public control.

For a short while, the bankers had to cut down on things. “Misjudgments” and “errors” were admitted. Individual culpability or criminal action was never heard. After the first shock, the damaged system was soon defended again. German bankers managed to give the public impression that they did not have the least thing to do with the origin of the financial crisis.

Ackermann shows off again double-digit profit goals and pockets 9.4 million euro in the crisis year.

A few CEOs resigned with the lame excuse that they had no kind of personal responsibility. They shamelessly pocketed their “success royalties” and their compensations in the millions – partly even financed from state subsidies. Expecting enlightenment or remedies is like asking the frogs whether the swamp can be dried up.

The Bank Tribunal is irreplaceable because politics is not ready for enlightenment. “Someone must do this.”

Even responsible politicians act as though they had nothing to do with the causes of the bank collapse and even celebrate themselves as rescuers. In different ways, they got the roulette-machines of the casino going.

Altogether 35 laws and measures to promote the financial sector were whipped through the German parliament from 2001 to October 2008. Hans Eichel, Peer Steinbruck, Jorg Asmussen and the chancellor sang the high song of Germany as a finance country. I refer to the bill of indictment.

From 2003 securities were promoted and relieved. The sale of credit demands of a credit institution by a conduit was freed from the trade tax and the sales tax under certain circumstances. From 2004 hedge funds were allowed. Profits in selling businesses were tax-exempt. Thus the plundering of healthy enterprises was greased and millions of jobs destroyed.

Financial management played a key role in the legislation. Lobbyists of financial institutions were assigned to the ministries. The same ones often write the bills who advised the banks before and after. This is called “party sellout.”

Politics and the established parties did drudgery work for the highly trained conspirators. Many politicians sat in the boat of the speculators du9ring and after their time in office, former super-minister Wolfgang Clement with Citigroup and the former CDU spokesperson Friedrich Merz with the hedge fund TCI. Listing the names would exceed my speaking time.

The chancellor made the goat into the gardener with the former chief economist of the European Central Bank, Otmar Issing. He was later advisor of the most voracious shark, Goldman Sachs. Angela Merkel appointed him chairperson of the commission on reforming the international financial markets.

To divert from their past actions, politicians take us for a ride. The financial crisis comes from the US. It suddenly attacked us like a “jumping jack,” as the defendant Steinbruck said. All these excuses were downright lies. Already in February 2003, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported that Steinbruck’s predecessor in office, Hans Eichel, met secretly with Schroeder and Clement with the top executives of banks and insurance companies to discuss the founding of a bad bank. At that time experts estimated the “distressed credits” of German banks at 150 to 160 billion euro.

The most clever trickster ploy was the invention of the term “system-relevant.” Under the camouflaged word “systemic risk,” the state organized criminal bankruptcy delays of many banks. Hardly anyone dared to say that a “systemic political corruption” preceded the “systemic risk.”

Up to today the government kept secret the names of the creditors that were served at state expense. Citizens must bleed and should not even know for whom.


The original function of the law is protection of peaceful cooperative human life. But hardly anything in recent times has broken the inner peace of society like the financial crisis.

Restitution of an injury is a basic legal principle.

The statutory offenses of disloyalty, fraud, receiving stolen goods and extortion are fulfilled but the criminal law does not take up the battle. The few criminal proceedings suggest that a bank executive or politicians will never be punished for arising losses, let alone answer or be liable for that.

Obviously there is no repertoire of sanctions against system criminality. The ou9trageous extent of the damage exceeds the compensation of individual persons.

“Too big for justice” follows “too big to fail.”

Police, public prosecutors and judges are extremely overtaxed to show the illegality and culpability of individual actors. The law loses its way in an inscrutable maze of legal rules and drowns in an ocean of evidence.

No equality of weapons exists between criminal justice and the bankers. Bankers have whole convoys of high-paid attorneys while the public prosecutors are mostly powerless.

If a condemnation actually occurs, the accused refer to the expert opinions of auditors on whom they relied. The judges appeal to the legal construct of “unavoidable prohibited error.” In other words, the judges could not prove beyond a doubt that insight in their unjust conduct was possible to the accused.


Only a few economists warned of a crisis. Most were completely surprised by the crisis. They did not want to know anything about the crisis dangers.

Even today the most radical market liberals do not see beyond their ideological blinders and explain the financial market crisis as a state breakdown. Low interests and money multiplication of the American Federal Reserve were the real causes.

As in hardly any other country, the absolutely dominant opinion prevailed among Germany’s economists that financial markets lead to proper price formation, the state has to keep away from the markets as much as possible and free competition leads to “efficient outcomes.” For decades, the economic wise men of the council of experts, the economic research institutes and most economic chairs had nothing more important to do that defend this dogma and be served by politics.

The herd drove to wage-dumping, lower corporate taxes, deregulation and flexibility. Privatization and a weak social state were regarded as recipes for success in the location competition. These prescriptions were stylized as “without alternative.” German chancellor Schroeder even went so far to claim they were “objectively necessary.” Only an increase of the dose of the old prescription followed every failure.

In its stubborn dogmatism, the mainstream of economics betrays the principles of scientificness. Many so-called “independent” experts even depend directly on the bread-basket of financial management and its PR-agents.

The financial catastrophe is a fiasco of their religious doctrine. That catastrophe plunged the dominant economy into a crisis of meaning. Almost overnight some of its exponents turned out to be renegades and called for the once demonized state. Most from the guild of economists only remained ignorant. So much the worse for practice when it does not correspond to our theory, the herd insisted.


We often document the “manipulation of public opinion” on our website Nachdenkseiten. I limit myself to the conclusion of a well-documented study by Hans-Jurgen Arit and Wolfgang Storz:

Current German economic journalism faces the global financial market like a graying city archivist faces the first computer with a mixture of ignorance and admiration, without knowing how it functions and without suspecting the momentous connections. In case of doubt, one joined the prevailing opinion. The worldwide crisis of the financial market, “the global crisis of big speculation, also triggered a crisis of economic journalism.”

By economic journalism, we refer to the so-called quality me3dia and not the campaign jou9rnalism of the Bild newspaper and media with thinned editorial staffs in which the limits between journalism and adoption of public relations works are increasingly mixed.

Criticism is not directed against the many journalists who try to do good enlightening work by exposing the order of jou8rnalism and working conditions in the editorial offices.

Up to now the media has not offered any forum on which the deficits in the past could be worked out. Who accuses himself?

Pronouncing a judgment at the beginning of our tribunal would be improper and arrogant. We focus on the arguments of prosecutors and defense counsel and the testimony of witnesses.

Our goal must be that we all become witnesses of accusation. With our impeachment, we set standards by which abnormal behavior or lapses can be measured. We point to the moral failure of individuals and also dig below the surface and identify systemic risk.

It would be a success if we left the “People’s Theater” on Sunday and restored the people’s sovereignty. We must take away the feeling of powerlessness from ourselves and the immobilized majority of the affected. Feelings of powerlessness can paralyze initiatives and make people depressed and apathetic. We may not allow this. That would be a double victory for the bankers and their henchmen. That would be deadly for our democratic community.

Therefore our tribunal must be a beacon or set a signal that encourages people and gives them self-confidence to resist.

Our goal must be to condense our criticism and derive alternatives. We must develop proposals and “concrete utopias” that inspire people and give them hope again. Thus we may not slacken after the tribunal. We must join forces and tighten our networks.

The word “crisis” comes from the Greek and marks the culminating- or turning point of a dangerous development. May the Bank Tribunal ward off the catastrophic “status quo” and begin a turn to the better!

The search for better alternatives requires creativity. Art stands for creative energy.

Let us learn this evening in an epic way in the sense of Bertolt Brecht from the artists of the People’s Theater, from the genial mocker Urban Priol and from Georg Schramm’s uncompromising angry outburst summarizing things much better than a long speech. I thank you for your patience and your attention.


“The Quiet Coup” by Simon Johnson:

“Attac’s Bank Tribunal: The Jury’s Verdict” by Friedhelm Hengsbach:

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