Careless Lending at Ex-Im Bank Invites Fraud

COMMENTARY Government Regulation

Careless Lending at Ex-Im Bank Invites Fraud

Jun 24, 2014 3 min read

Former Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy

Diane Katz was a research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that four employees of the Export-Import Bank have been removed in recent months amid allegations of kickbacks and other corruption. But the Journal article tells only part of the story.

Based on a review of government documents, The Heritage Foundation has determined that there have been at least 74 cases since April 2009 in which bank officials were forced to act on the basis of “integrity” investigations by the Office of Inspector General. Dozens of other fraud cases involving Ex-Im beneficiaries have been referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

The revelations come at a particularly vulnerable time for the government agency, which is facing growing opposition in Congress over reauthorization. Ex-Im’s charter will expire on Sept. 30, and key House leaders oppose it, including newly elected Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Fraud and corruption are among a long list of operational problems at the bank, which is a conduit for corporate welfare and beset by mismanagement, inefficiency and risk. In a 2013 report to Congress, the Office of Inspector General characterized Ex-Im as exhibiting “weaknesses in governance and internal controls for business operations.”

An examination of Ex-Im fraud cases reveals a disturbing pattern of carelessness in doling out taxpayer subsidies.

According to the Journal, four employees are under investigation for accepting kickbacks and gifts and improperly steering federal contracts to favored firms. Such misconduct is an ever-present risk when government bureaucrats control billions of dollars in subsidies that confer a competitive advantage to favored companies. The latest report to Congress noted the dismissal of two employees and a letter of reprimand against another in a six-month period as a result of the IG’s investigations.

Employees say that ethical conduct is not among Ex-Im’s strengths. Responding to a 2013 government survey, for example, only 42 percent of bank employees agreed with the statement “My organization’s leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” Only half agreed they can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.

Meanwhile, dozens of other cases of wrongdoing involving Ex-Im beneficiaries were under IG investigation as of March 31, and 47 criminal judgments and 42 pleas were obtained in the preceding six months.

An examination of Ex-Im fraud cases reveals a disturbing pattern of carelessness in doling out taxpayer subsidies. For example, the bank approved 96 loan transactions in a two-year period for Gangland, USA, which purported to export electronics from Miami to South America. According to prosecutors, company owner Jose L. Quijano received more than $3.6 million in fraudulent loans from the bank.

Similarly, the bank approved 18 loans involving $13.6 million to Leopoldo Parra, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to prosecutors, Parra and his co-conspirators fraudulently obtained the loan proceeds and used them for personal gain.

These and dozens of other cases reflect the hazards inherent in government subsidies. That is, agencies such as Ex-Im do not engage in meaningful due diligence when taxpayers are on the hook for any or all losses. The IG noted in a 2012 report to Congress that the bank failed to collect adequate credit information and history from borrowers and lacked sufficient compliance personnel relative to the increasing size of the bank’s finance portfolio, which is expected to exceed $140 billion by Sept. 30. It also concluded that Ex-Im’s risk management framework and governance structure are not commensurate with the size, scope and strategic ambitions of the institution.

Ex-Im chairman Fred Hochberg is scheduled to testify before the House Financial Services Committee tomorrow. Lawmakers should press him on the bank’s record of mismanagement and dysfunction. Congress also must decide whether to reauthorize the bank, that is, continue to extend billions of dollars in corporate welfare on the backs of taxpayers or allow private investors to finance U.S. exports—as it does for 98 percent of them. Policymaking could not get any easier.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal