MPs to question HSBC chief over freezing Hong Kong pro-democracy accounts

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Lucy Burton
·3 min read
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HSBC sign
HSBC sign

HSBC's chief executive will be hauled in front of MPs next week to explain why the bank has frozen the accounts of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

The bank has avoided public comments on the deepening crisis since it backed Beijing's controversial security law for the former British colony last year. HSBC's profits are heavily dependent on China.

The crackdown criminalises anti-government movements in Hong Kong, resulting in the arrest of dozens of pro-democracy figures since it was imposed last summer.

HSBC bosses will be unable to avoid the subject on Tuesday when Noel Quinn and compliance chief Colin Bell give evidence to the foreign affairs committee on the security law and the "recent freezing of accounts of activists".

The decision to grill the bank over the escalating situation in Hong Kong comes days after Mr Quinn broke his silence on the matter by writing to pro-democracy politician Ted Hui, explaining that HSBC was forced to freeze the activist's accounts following an order from Hong Kong police.

Noel Quinn
Noel Quinn

In the message - highly unusual for a bank boss - he said: "I regret that HSBC is not able to operate your bank and credit card accounts."

Mr Hui said in a Facebook post that the explanation was inadequate and called on MPs to investigate.

The campaigner said he had never been questioned about any transactions by the bank and asked whether the lender had simply found his accounts suspicious "because the police said so".

"The international bank has put its customer service on the pillar of shame in its political toadyism," Mr Hui said.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee, told The Telegraph earlier this week that Mr Quinn was "clearly defending his actions by denying responsibility".

Mr Hui's had his bank accounts frozen over a month ago, when he fled Hong Kong for the UK because he feared being jailed in the face of a national security law investigation. He was one of the 15 former pro-democracy politicians who resigned from Hong Kong’s legislative council in November.

The targeting of bank accounts is one of the latest tactics by Hong Kong authorities to crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

Three former pro-democracy lawmakers, including Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Ted Hui Chi-fung and Raymond Chan, were arrested on 18 November, in connection with their attempts to disrupt the passage of the national anthem bill, at the Legislative Council, earlier this year. 
Three former pro-democracy lawmakers, including Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Ted Hui Chi-fung and Raymond Chan, were arrested on 18 November, in connection with their attempts to disrupt the passage of the national anthem bill, at the Legislative Council, earlier this year.

Last month a number of HSBC accounts linked to a Hong Kong church that had offered humanitarian support on the frontlines of the city’s pro-democracy movement were frozen.

The Communist leadership in China is under growing pressure for stamping out freedom in Hong Kong and putting Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang into forced labour camps.

Mike Pompeo, the former US Secretary of State, accused Beijing of genocide on Tuesday, further straining ties between the world's top two economies. A week earlier the US banned imports of all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang.

HSBC said earlier this week that it was required to comply with the law in every jurisdiction in which it operates.