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Police scouring suspects' bank records: activists

2021-01-26 HKT 15:08
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  • Reuters reports that the banks involved include HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, Citibank and Standard Chartered. Photo: Reuters
    Reuters reports that the banks involved include HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, Citibank and Standard Chartered. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong authorities are scrutinising the financial records of pro-democracy activists as they crack down on political opposition, according to some activists and a senior bank executive.

Six pro-democracy activists told the Reuters news agency that Hong Kong police obtained some of their bank records without their consent and questioned them about certain transactions after they were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of subversion under the territory’s national security law.

The number of requests for customers’ financial records by Hong Kong police has more than doubled over the past six months or so, an executive at a major retail bank in Hong Kong with direct knowledge of the matter said. The executive said the number of people affected likely remains in double figures overall. The person said the increase was due to requests for information about pro-democracy activists.

The increasing use of bank records in questioning activists, which has not previously been reported, shows police in the SAR are using the full extent of their powers to investigate people suspected of breaking the stringent national security law which was introduced on June 30, according to the six activists.

Some of the banks involved include HSBC and its Hang Seng Bank subsidiary, Citibank and Standard Chartered. Representatives of those banks declined to comment on individual accounts.

Banks in Hong Kong have little choice but to comply with police requests, the senior bank executive told Reuters: "The aggrieved party can go to the court if they think their accounts were frozen or their transaction details were shared for wrong reasons, but there's very little we can do here."

A police representative declined to comment on why officers were seeking activists’ financial records, saying the department would not disclose details of its operations or investigations.

The government did not respond to a request for comment on how or why police sought the bank information of arrested suspects.

Police in Hong Kong, as in most places in the world, have long been able to request customer information from banks as part of criminal investigations, and it's not clear whether the national security law has made it easier for officers to get hold of individuals’ bank records.

The law does not mention access to bank information. It does give authorities the power to seize funds they believe are the proceeds of, or are intended to be used for, breaking the national security law. Authorities have not announced the seizure of any funds under that provision.

A spokeswoman for the Monetary Authority, which regulates the banking sector, said: "Financial institutions are expected to cooperate with [law enforcement agencies] on investigations and law enforcement actions." (Reuters)