Transparency International today called on authorities in the United Kingdom to begin a criminal investigation into HSBC in light of recent accusations against the bank.
HSBC’s private bank has been accused of facilitating money laundering and earned big profits handling secret accounts for arms dealers, dictators and blood diamond traffickers, according to material released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
“Multiple news outlets have shown how HSBC went out of its way to maintain bank accounts for well-known criminals and other corrupt people. The Swiss have acted on the available evidence: we do not see any reason why a criminal investigation should not also be immediately initiated by UK authorities,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International.
In recent years, in a number of cases relating to money laundering and tax evasion, criminal investigations into HSBC have been initiated by Argentine, Brazilian, Swiss and United States authorities. However, there has been no such investigation in the UK, where HSBC is headquartered and is the country’s biggest bank as measured by assets.
The Swiss authorities have acted and it is surprising that those in the UK have not. Transparency International urges cooperation between the Swiss and UK authorities.
HSBC has made progress in its anti-corruption procedures in the past two years; to prove its commitment, Transparency International would expect full cooperation from the company in any investigation and prosecution.
The HSBC affair is the latest in a long line of banking scandals, most of which have resulted in penalties that have not demonstrably changed behaviour or culture. The recent ruling to imprison bankers in Iceland resulting from the 2008 financial crisis has been a rare example of individuals being held responsible.
The UK authorities must make a bold move against the corruption and abuse of the global banking system by the banks that they are responsible for regulating. HSBC is not the first bank to face such serious accusations, nor will it be the last, but it is imperative a strong message be sent that corruption is unacceptable in the banking sector and the ongoing string of scandals must be stopped.
Financial integrity is fundamental to the well-being of the global economy. Bankers and regulators have so far failed to demonstrate that they understand this simple fact and it is time they did so.