HSBC's chief executive, Noel Quinn, has told British lawmakers that the bank did not make political or moral judgments when it froze the accounts of Hong Kong activists, saying it had no choice but to comply with the law in any jurisdiction it works in.
Speaking to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Quinn declined to comment specifically on the case of fugitive former lawmaker Ted Hui, but stressed that the bank would itself have been committing a crime if it failed to comply with police requests.
"It's not in my position to make a moral or a political judgement on these matters, I have to comply with the law," Quinn said, adding that the decision was not take by any individual but was subject to a range of internal checks and procedures.
Hui fled to Britain via Denmark in December. He was awaiting trial on protest-related charges. Hong Kong police say they were looking into whether Hui embezzled around HK$850,000 collected through crowd-funding for private prosecutions and described the freezing as "responsible".
Quinn also defended the bank's decision to issue a statement supportive of Beijing's new national security law for the SAR in June last year.
He said Hong Kong had experienced a deteriorating security situation for "12 or 18 months" and said the bank had been forced to ask 30,000 employees to work from home because they felt it was not safe to use public transport.
He denied that the bank was making political statements and defended a decision by its Asia-Pacific head, Peter Wong, to sign a petition supporting the new law.
"It was not a political statement on his behalf. It was a statement that he was asking for the security situation in Hong Kong to be addressed," Quinn said.
"Having experienced 18 months of progressive decline that culminated in an extended period of riots and violence, that's what he was asking for."
Asked whether the bank would ever consider pulling out of the SAR, Quinn said the bank was committed to Hong Kong despite what he described as a particularly challenging geopolitical situation.
HSBC chief: 'no moral judgment' in freezing accounts
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