Brit lawmakers to grill HSBC chief on Hui's account freeze

Top News | BLOOMBERG 26 Jan 2021

HSBC Holdings chief executive Noel Quinn is set to appear before the British Parliament foreign affairs committee to answer questions over the lender's moves to freeze accounts of activists in Hong Kong, according to an exiled lawmaker.

Quinn is listed as a participant, along with Colin Bell, the bank's chief compliance officer, at private and public hearings today, according to a parliament schedule.

In a Facebook post, former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, whose account was frozen by the bank last year, said members of the foreign affairs panel have contacted him.

Hui said he has provided them with information on cases where his and his families accounts were frozen.

The London-based bank, which counts Hong Kong as its largest market, has been caught in the middle of growing tension as China tightens control over Hong Kong.

The lender came under criticism from the West last year after its top executive in Asia publicly endorsed the national security law imposed on the city. A local church has also accused the bank of freezing its account.

In a letter to Hui this month, Quinn explained that the bank was forced to freeze the accounts at the request of police. The pro-democracy lawmaker 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 has rejected Quinn's explanation, saying he "failed to provide the legal basis" for the freeze.

The bank has said it cannot comment on specific accounts.

"HSBC is in an impossible position and at the end of the day, I don't think its sustainable for them," said Richard Harris, chief executive at Port Shelter Investment Management.

"They are already highly compliant and yet they are asked to do more, and conflicting things by both sides."

The situation is getting increasingly politicized for HSBC, which has been blasted by the United States, Britain and China. The bank is likely to provide a strategy update alongside its full-year results on February 23.

HSBC chairman Mark Tucker said last week "the world had changed" in the 11 months since Europe's biggest bank announced an 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.

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