HSBC CEO faces questions in UK over freezing Hong Kong activists’ accounts
Parliament foreign affairs committee to grill Noel Quinn and chief compliance officer Colin Bell
Hong Kong — HSBC Holdings CEO Noel Quinn is set to appear before the UK parliament foreign affairs committee to answer questions over the lender’s moves to freeze accounts of activists in Hong Kong, according to an exiled legislator.
Quinn is listed as a participant, with Colin Bell, the bank’s chief compliance officer, at private and public hearings on Tuesday, according to a parliament schedule, which didn’t provide details.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, former Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui, whose account was frozen by the bank last year, said that members of the foreign affairs panel have contacted him. He said that he has provided the committee with detailed information on cases in which his and his families’ accounts were frozen.
The London-based bank, which counts Hong Kong as its largest market, has been caught in the midst of growing tension as China tightens control over the former British colony. The lender came under criticism last year after its top executive in Asia publicly endorsed a controversial security law imposed on the city. A local church has also accused the bank of freezing its account.
In a letter to Hui earlier this month, Quinn said that the bank was forced to freeze the accounts at the request of the police. The pro-democracy legislator was among those arrested in connection with a disruptive protest in the legislative chamber in May. He was out on bail when he fled the city last year and is now in exile.
Hui earlier rejected Quinn’s explanation, saying he “failed to provide the legal basis” for the account lockdown. An HSBC spokesperson declined to comment. The bank has said it can’t comment on specific accounts.
Richard Harris, CEO at Port Shelter Investment Management., said HSBC is in an “impossible position”.
“I don’t think its sustainable for them. They are already highly compliant and yet they are asked to do more, and conflicting things by both sides.”
The situation is getting increasingly politicised for HSBC, which has been blasted by the US, the UK and China. The bank is likely to provide a strategy update alongside its full-year results on February 23.
HSBC chair Mark Tucker said last week “the world had changed” in the 11 months since Europe’s biggest bank announced a long-awaited overhaul, forcing the lender to make its plans more radical. The bank is confirming areas of focus, especially in Asia, and sees opportunities to grow its wealth business and expand across South Asia, he added.
The lender’s shares in Hong Kong fell as much as 1.6% on Monday morning and are down about 27% in the past year.
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