HSBC bank branch logo is seen in central London
HSBC bank branch logo is seen in central London REUTERS

How much is "sorry" worth? $100 million perhaps? $700 million? Two billion?

This morning HSBC announced it was setting aside up to two billion dollars for fines in the U.S. and UK.

For mis-selling Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) to British consumers, the bank has set aside $1.3 billion to settle penalties and litigation.

At the same time, the British banking giant announced it was earmarking $700 million for laundering roughly $30 billion in drug and terrorism money.

"In an age of international terrorism, drug violence in our streets ... and organized crime, stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative," Senator Carl Levin, leading the U.S. probe into HSBC's money laundering activities, said earlier this month.

Levin's committee accused the bank of using a global network of branches and a U.S. affiliate to create a gateway into the American financial system that led to more than $30 billion in suspect transactions linked to Mexican drug cartels and gave banks with links to terrorism access to the U.S. financial system.

A separate audit of the bank's finances found that nearly 25,000 transactions totaling $19 billion involving Iranian firms were, "handled by HSBC's American unit but were not properly disclosed to American regulators," the New York Times reported.

Now compare HSBC's $700 million estimated fines to the billions paid by BP (so far) for the Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010.

With U.S. President Obama's spokesman famously threatening to hold his "boot on the throat of BP", the company has been subjected to a savage political and financial backlash.

BP has so far stumped up $20 billion for a spill response fund alone, with the company settling a $7.8 billion with Gulf residents and businesses.

And if the U.S. Government decides to pursue criminal environmental penalties, BP could add anywhere between $17 billion to $40 billion in federal fines as well as a further $20 billion in potential civil penalties. While those estimates would almost certainly be reduced through settlements, in the worst case scenario that's nearly $100 billion in fines.

While those affected by HSBC's misdemeanors are harder to identify, consider this. The U.S. federal government spent $15 billion fighting the "war on drugs" in 2012, with local and state governments spending a further 25 billion, according to figures quoted by

The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) estimates that in 2007 drug use cost the U.S. $193 billion in lost productivity, healthcare and criminal justice fees. That number, according to the NDIC, is currently growing by $6,120 per second.

Added to this are the roughly 50,000 killed in the last six years as the Mexican government battles the cartels. Cartels, remember, who in some small way have been aided and abetted by HSBC's lax money laundering controls.

In addition, how about the hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. spends battling Al-Qaeda and the like? The intelligence community, coast guard, military; every truck, spy, bomb and bullet America dedicates to battling terrorism at home and abroad, again in no small part undermined by HSBC.

How about applying that same boot that choked the life out of BP a little more firmly on HSBC?