A former head of the embattled HSBC bank and current member of Britain’s House of Lords has again apologized and conceded compliance failures at the bank’s private Swiss branch as he faced questions from a parliamentary committee last week.
Lord Stephen Green told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that the bank should have conducted tougher checks before purchasing its Swiss arm but said Swiss law made it difficult.
Speaking in detail for the first time since ICIJ and media partners around the world published the Swiss Leaks investigation that revealed widespread issues at HSBC’s Swiss branch, Lord Green said the bank’s board didn’t pay enough attention to potential issues.
“With the benefit of hindsight – and this was complicated by Swiss law which prevented [HSBC’s board] seeing client details – it would have been good to know details of this earlier, and we didn’t get everything right,” he said.
Lord Green was chief executive of the bank from 2003 to 2006, and then served as chairman until 2010, when he was appointed to the House of Lords and made trade minister by the Cameron government.
Last week’s hearing was the first time Lord Green officially faced questions about issues at HSBC since ICIJ’s Swiss Leaks investigation was published in February.
When asked about allegations of tax evasion raised by the Swiss Leaks investigation, Lord Green told the committee he was not aware of any “industrial-scale systems of tax evasion” through the bank.
“We became aware of this situation, the extent of it, only in around 2010. Indeed the kind of activity that was described in the media reports earlier this year I was certainly not aware of before we read about them in the media reports, and I don’t think any other member of the senior management group was either,” he said.
Lord Green also conceded the bank failed to carry out due diligence before acquiring a Mexican bank which was later implicated in a money laundering scandal, resulting in an almost $2 billion fine for HSBC from U.S. prosecutors.
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