Europe News

HSBC Ignored Drug Money Fear, Alleges Senate

Shahien Nasiripour

HSBC ignored warnings that its activities may have possibly exposed the US financial system to drug money from Mexico and inadvertently provided banking services to lenders suspected of links to terrorist organizations, Senate investigators have claimed in a new report.

gavel and money

The bank moved billions of dollars in cash from its affiliate in Mexico to the US, more than any other Mexican bank, in spite of concerns raised by law enforcement agencies with HSBC that such sums could only involve the proceeds from dealings in illegal narcotics, the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations report said.

HSBC executives ignored internal warnings of possibly improper activities, flouted rules designed to enforce existing US sanctions and waived anti-money laundering requirementsfor certain wealthy clients, Senate investigators allege.

Carl Levin, chairman of the investigations panel, said: “Stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative.” He added: “HSBC’s compliance culture has been pervasively polluted for a long time.”

Present and former executives of HSBC are due to answer lawmakers’ queries on Tuesday, following a multiyear probe by Senate investigators. The congressional panel is using HSBC as a “case study” to demonstrate the US financial system’s vulnerability to money launderingand terrorist financing.

In a statement before the hearing, HSBC said: “We will acknowledge that in the past, we have sometimes failed to meet the standards that regulators and customers expect.

“We will apologize, acknowledge these mistakes, answer for our actions and give our absolute commitment to fixing what went wrong.”

The bank has not been formally accused of wrongdoing in connection with the most recent investigation. However, HSBC twice in the past10 years has been cited by US bank regulators for deficient anti-money laundering policies and ordered to take corrective action.

HSBC is facing a multi-agency probe led by the US justice department, the US Treasuryand the Manhattan district attorney, which is centered on many of the accusations leveled by Senate investigators.

One analyst has estimated that a settlement with authorities could cost the bankas much as $1 billion. Mr. Levin said that US authorities should consider revoking HSBC’s US banking license as a consequence of the bank’s alleged violations.

HSBC has overhauled its compliance procedures since the alleged breaches, recruiting a former top antiterrorism official from the Treasury department, and pledged that the activities it has been accused of are no longer occurring.

The Senate investigations panel reserved some of its most blistering criticism for HSBC’s lead regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The agency “tolerated” HSBC’s poor anti-money laundering policies for years, the Senate panel said. The OCC took a weaker approach to policing banks for money laundering activities than fellow regulators, according to investigators.

Thomas Curry, OCC chief, said: “The [investigations panel] made a number of very thoughtful recommendations in its report, which we fully embrace.”