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HSBC chiefs face scrutiny over freezing Hong Kong pro-democracy accounts

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2020/09/22: A woman wearing a mask stands in front of the British multinational banking and financial services holding company HSBC Bank seen in Hong Kong. (Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HSBC faced backlash last summer after it issued a statement in favour of a new national security law in Hong Kong that handed China sweeping powers over the former British territory. Photo: Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

HSBC’s (HSBA.L) chief executive and the bank’s chief compliance officer will be questioned my UK MPs next week over the bank’s freezing of the account of a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.

The bank faced backlash last summer after it issued a statement in favour of a new national security law in Hong Kong that handed China sweeping powers over the former British territory.

It has since avoided public comments on the deepening crisis as its profits are heavily dependent on China.

The national security law criminalises criticism of the Chinese Communist party. The law allows police to arrest activists for subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces. The rule effectively bans protests.

Beijing’s crackdown resulted in dozens of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong being arrested since it was imposed last summer.

Chief executive, Noel Quinn will appear at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday, Colin Bell, HSBC’s chief compliance officer will also be there.

MPs will question the chiefs over a “number of recent events in Hong Kong, including the passing of the security law” and “the recent freezing of accounts of activists involved with the Hong Kong protests.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: HSBC to close 82 high street branches

The decision to grill the bosses comes days after Quinn clashed with a pro-democracy activist and former Hong Kong legislative councillor over the bank’s stance on the Asian region.

The chief exec wrote to pro-democracy politician Ted Hui, to explain that the bank was forced to freeze the activist's accounts following an order from Hong Kong police, after Hui wrote to Quinn for an explanation.

HSBC said that it was “required to comply with the law in every jurisdiction in which we operate.”

Hui, a former member of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, faces nine charges in the region, including criminal damage and perverting the course of justice.

His accounts were frozen in 2020 when he fled Hong Kong for Britain over fears of being jailed in the region.

Hui said in a Facebook (FB) post that Quinn’s explanation was inadequate and called on MPs to investigate. He said that HSBC never asked about the transactions and asked whether the lender found his account suspicious because “the police said so.”

“Has HSBC followed professional procedures of screening, asking, finding and evaluating? Or has HSBC found them suspicious only because the police said so?” he wrote on the social media site.

Hong Kong employees, of the lender — which is headquartered in London — make up around 30,000 of the bank’s 235,000 staff, and more than half of its profits.

China has been under growing pressure for its response to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and putting Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang into forced labour camps.

Former US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo accused the country of genocide and a week earlier, America banned imports of all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang, further straining relations between the world’s two biggest economies.

Watch: HSBC Grooms Leaders for China Push