Friday 22 January 2021 7:22 pm

HSBC chiefs to face MPs' questions over Hong Kong protesters’ frozen accounts

Two HSBC executives are set to face questions from MPs next week over the bank’s stance on Hong Kong, amid mounting pressure to reverse a decision to freeze the accounts of pro-democracy activists in the region. 

HSBC faced backlash last summer after it issued a statement in favour of a new National Security Law in Hong Kong that handed Beijing sweeping powers over the former British territory. 

The legislation allowed police to arrest people for subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces in a law that effectively banned protests. 

The British bank, which has its headquarters in London but is heavily dependent on the two Asian regions, said it supported “all laws that stabilise Hong Kong’s social order”.

Hong Kong employees make up around 30,000 of HSBC’s 235,000 staff, and more than half of its profits.

Chief executive Noel Quinn and chief compliance officer Colin Bell will on Tuesday face a grilling from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FAC) over its relationship with the region.

The committee meeting will see the HSBC bosses questioned over a “number of recent events in Hong Kong, including the passing of the security law” and “the recent freezing of accounts of activists involved with the Hong Kong protests”.

It comes days after HSBC’s chief executive clashed with a pro-democracy activist and former Hong Kong legislative councillor over the bank’s stance on the Asian region.

Ted Hui wrote to Quinn asking him why his bank accounts and those of his family members had been suspended.  

The bank said at the time that it was “required to comply with the law in every jurisdiction in which we operate”.

But Quinn took the highly unusual move to break his personal silence on the matter, saying earlier this week: “I regret that HSBC is not able to operate your bank and credit card accounts.”

Hui was a member of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party and faces nine charges in the region, including perverting the course of justice and criminal damage. 

His bank accounts were frozen last year when he fled Hong Kong for the UK over fears of being jailed in the region.

In a post on Facebook, he alleged that HSBC had “failed to provide the legal basis” for the freeze and that the lender had not asked him to explain any transactions it thought were suspicious. 

“Has HSBC followed professional procedures of screening, asking, finding and evaluating? Or has HSBC found them suspicious only because ‘the police said so’?” Hui wrote. 

HSBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.