HSBC chief Executive Stuart Gulliver apologized over accusation that its Swiss private bank helped big clients with illegal dealings, specifically in dodging tax payments.
The apology came in an open letter run by major newspapers in Britain.
“A Painful Experience”
Gulliver’s letters was addressed to the bank’s customers and staff. In the letter, Gulliver apologized for standards and practices that the bank was implementing eight years ago. He highlighted that such policies were no longer being practiced at present and that the Swiss private bank had been “completely overhauled.”
Gulliver called the ongoing media coverage of the issue “a painful experience.”
“The media focus has been on historical events that show the standards to which we operate today were not universally in place in our Swiss operations eight years ago. We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us. We therefore offer our sincerest apologies,” Gulliver wrote.
Gulliver highlighted that the leaked data that gave rise to the HSBC scandal were stolen more than eight years ago. He said that major UK media outlets had been reporting 140 names of clients who were simply mentioned because they are famous individuals.
“The vast majority of these 140 people are no longer clients,” Gulliver emphasized.
He said the media had been mentioning a number of 100,000 clients while at its peak, the Swiss private bank had only about 30,000 accounts. “We have absolutely no appetite to do business with clients who are evading their taxes or who fail to meet our financial crime compliance standards,” Gulliver said.
The HSBC Scandal
Gulliver’s apology came after an expose’ from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists or ICIJ. The group had accused HSBC of profiting from doing business with individuals linked to illegal dealings.
“HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channeled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws,” ICIJ said in its report.
The group’s accusation was based from leaked information it obtained from French newspaper Le Monde. HSBC was also accused of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from tax authorities.
Some clients who were said to be helped by HSBC to evade taxes include famed soccer and tennis players, cyclists, rock stars, Hollywood actors, royalty, politicians, corporate executives and old-wealth families.