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In Buffalo, Ban Spins for M&T Bank Accused of Discrimination and Money Laundering

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 17 -- Buffalo based M&T Bank has the been stalled its in proposal to acquire New Jersey's Hudson City Savings Bank since 2012, due to US government allegations that M&T has violated lending and anti-money laundering rules.

  M&T's merger application has been challenged under the Community Reinvestment Act, including by Fair Finance Watch; the bank has been sued under the Fair Housing Act.

  But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on August 14 gave a speech to “150 invited guests at M&T headquarters in downtown Buffalo.” 

  Did Ban mention the lending discrimination or money laundering charges? We don't know - unlike other speeches Ban gives, this one was not distributed to the press corp which covers the UN, much less put on the UN's website.

  It would have been easy for Ban and his team to learn about the status of M&T Bank by the most cursory of web searches. Bloomberg News on April 15 of this year reported that the bank's partner“disproportionately denied home loans to black borrowers -- 3.21 times more frequently than whites in the greater New York area  -- according to an analysis of public data by Fair Finance Watch.”
  This Bloomberg piece was published in the Buffalo News the same day; the Buffalo News back on October 10, 2012 quoted Fair Finance Watch that M&T made “119 loans to white borrowers, but just 17 to Hispanics, who were denied 1.91 times more often than white borrowers.”

   This same Buffalo News, which apparently alone until now reported on Ban's Buffalo trip, said that

“Ban Ki-moon may not be a household name. But as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban is an international rock star in the realm of world affairs – the Mick Jagger of international diplomacy. Which begged the question:  Why was he in Buffalo Friday? There’s a story behind the visit. Ban, 71, was invited by Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and chief executive officer of M&T Bank. The two have known each other for some time, Ban said. He first met Wilmers during a foreign relations visit to the Republic of Korea, where Ban had served as minister of foreign affairs and trade prior to taking over as Secretary-General at the United Nations in 2007. Ban ended up inviting Wilmers to his home, where the two discussed matters of common concern. On Friday, Ban spoke at a dinner for about 150 invited guests at M&T headquarters in downtown Buffalo.”

   The question arises: who were the 150 people invited by M&T? Did they pay to attend, or gain invitations due to payments to or business arrangements with M&T? If so, is charge for a speech by the UN Secretary General appropriate?

   Ban has previously offered praise to banks and corporations with questionable records - but often this has been justified with the argument that to address climate change, you have to deal with polluters and those who finance them. But in this case, did Ban push for any changes at M&T? It is not even a member of the UN's “blue-washing” Global Compact. Did Ban even ask Wilmers?

Footnote: Wilmers may blame M&T's problems on underlings. Ban Ki-moon has experience with such scapegoating, most recently on rapes in the Central African Republic being blamed only on local commander Babacar Gaye of Senegal, and not his (and UN Peacekeeping's) boss, Herve Ladsous of France. We'll have more on this.


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