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Ten years on from Lehman Brothers' collapse and just look who's in the money

The financial services firm is long gone but its former CEO is back on Wall Street: AFP/Getty

Life's good if you're former Lehman Brothers boss Richard 'Dick' Fuld.

Ten years on from the collapse of a bank that came within an ace of triggering global financial meltdown, Fuld’s made a Wall Street comeback.

He was unemployed for a few years – no great hardship when you can sell off a luxury Idaho estate near a ski resort and golf course for $20m (£15m) – but is now running a fund manager, Matrix Private Capital.

Announcing an expansion, he declared: “We see clear opportunities in a flawed and highly fragmented financial services market.”

That’s right, while touting his big plans, Dick Fuld chose to issue a lecture on the status of the market. It's a bit like Donald Trump telling off a subordinate for the misuse of Twitter.

Fuld picked up a number of gongs in the wake of Lehman’s collapse. CNN had him at number nine when it put together a list of the 'top ten most wanted villains of the financial crisis', while the FT’s Lex handed him its Overpaid CEO award (in his last couple of years he received nearly $75m).

He once whined that he was the most hated man in America. Perhaps he should be.

But, bar an appearance before a US Senate committee, he suffered no real sanction for his role in the collapse. Nor did any of his colleagues, despite it being clear that the foundations of the Lehamn edifice were rotten.

They never do.

Let’s come back across the Atlantic.

Former RBS boss Fred Goodwin is something of a pariah these days, but the man who led HBOS over a cliff, Andy Hornby, was only unemployed for a couple of months before being hired as the CEO of Alliance Boots. He didn't say there for long before he was on the move again, to bookie Coral. He is now an executive at the mega-bookie created through its merger with Ladbrokes, and then GVC.

His predecessor James Crosby wasn’t quite so fortunate, but nonetheless managed to find his way on to the advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital before resigning under fire from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

And so it goes on.

The crisis triggered by Lehman Brothers, and other failing banks, threw millions out of work. Some of them lost their homes as well as their livelihoods, and some their marriages. That’s what happens in the sort of recession that followed.

It led to a lost economic decade. Average real incomes on the UK are still languishing below their 2008 peak.

Meanwhile, the banks that survived paid billions of dollars to settle charges brought by the US Department of Justice and other authorities for their dealings in dodgy sub prime mortgages, including the packaging and sale of them around the globe that spread the toxin from the crisis like wildfire.

Yet you can count the individuals who paid a meaningful price for their roles on the fingers of one hand. And they were none of them the top dogs.

There was a bit more effort made with the scandals that emerged in its wake; the fraudulent manipulation of Libor interest rates, and foreign exchange rates. The rogue trades perpetrated at UBS by Kweku Adoboli.

In the case of the first of those, Tom Hayes, aka King Libor, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, which he continues to serve. Adoboli got seven. He’s now out on parole, but despite having come to Britain as a child, posing no threat to anyone, making efforts to rehabilitate himself, and having the support of more than 100 MPs and MSPs, the Home Office seems to determined to punish him twice by sending him back to Ghana, a country with which he no longer has a meaningful connection.

But the managers who facilitated, and profited from, their activities, who looked the other way and racked up the bonus payments? They, of course, got off. Again.

JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald once declared himself to be “a patsy”. Hayes and Adoboli will know how that feels.

It isn’t long since the Financial Conduct Authority said it would take no action in the wake of yet another scandal – the treatment of business banking customers by Royal Bank of Scotland’s GRG unit.

The blindfold you typically find upon statues of Lady Justice is supposed to indicate impartiality. It could just as easily be said to represent justice’s blindness to the misdeeds of the wealthiest and most powerful in society, particularly those who run banks.

The way the controlling brains of international finance have been allowed to escape any sanction for the roles they played in the creation of the crisis still rankles, and arguably played a role in the simmering resentment extremists have sought to exploit all over the West, with considerable success.

We are told in Britain that the Senior Managers Regime, which came into effect in 2016 and is overseen by the Financial Conduct Authority, will change things. It is supposed to establish clear lines of accountability for senior financiers, so they can no longer hide behind the decision making by committee that, it is said, allowed senior bankers to disavow responsibility for the actions that led to the collapse of Lehmans, and RBS and HBOS.

But is it really the lack of something like it that prevented a calling to account for the crisis? Or is it just as much down to a lack of will on the part of the authorities to make an attempt at using the laws in place at the time?

Clearly there was wrong doing at a lot of banks, or why pay all those billions in fines?

Of course, it’s easy to pursue institutions. Their bosses play with other people’s money, and it’s in their interests to settle. It establishes cost certainty, it’s usually cheaper, and it prevents investors from getting twitchy.

Individuals, especially wealthy ones, have more at stake and so are more inclined to fight, often with the aid of expensive lawyers adept at handling complex cases, and calling the authorities’ bluff.

And that, it seems, is all it takes to get them to back down.