19 Mar 2015

What happened when we tracked down ex-HSBC boss Lord Green

It happened to Fred the Shred. Now it is happening to Stephen Green. Extremely wealthy bankers at the apex when things go wrong, have reasonable questions to answer. Yet they are often reluctant to do this.

HSBC is a global organisation currently being pursued by regulators across the world. It was fined billions of dollars by US authorities for allowing Mexican drug money to be laundered by its suits.

And Stephen Green – formerly an unelected Tory minister – was a boss at the bank when its secret Swiss tax avoidance and evasion scheme was going on. And in part his role covered responsibilities for that.

Yesterday he was giving the last in a series of public lectures at a church in the City of London. We asked to take cameras in, several times during the day, and received no answer either way before going there.

The organisers emailed Channel 4 News saying:

“Lord Green is not giving interviews before or after the event in the church but the lecture is open to all and so people are welcome to attend and to ask questions. Each lecture in the Lenten series has had time for questions about the content.”

So, no interviews before or after from a man who has refused to answer questions to the media and to parliament about his role at the bank.

Further, an invitation to ask questions at what was a public lecture, a secular event, held in a church. That is to say, it was not a religious service.

‘Controversial guest’

Just before he spoke, the cameraman was told he would not be allowed to film, though he was permitted to remain in the church and listen to the lecture.

The sparsely attended event began at 5.30 where the chairman briefly introduced the speaker explaining that Stephen Green had questioned whether they should really invite such a “controversial guest”.

There were no other TV crews either outside or inside the event that I saw.

When he concluded the hour-long lecture on the broad theme that extremely rich bankers should avoid avarice and greed, the chairman called for questions.

As is often the way, he took several to be passed to Stephen Green for answering.

Before asking my question, I stated who I represented and that we were now filming. I asked if he knew about the secret Swiss tax accounts.

Ejected from church

Believing this might well be the only opportunity to ask any questions, I then proceeded as far as I could to ask several more questions about what he knew and whether he had spoken to David Cameron or George Osborne about this – a question the opposition has been asking of the government for some time without any success.

As I did so, a church official then told me to stop, and tried to obstruct the filming. I was concentrating upon asking questions but sensed the cameraman had indeed been ejected from the church.

Once I had an assurance from both the chairman and Stephen Green that some of our questions would at last be answered, things were able to calm down, we returned to our pews and Lord Green not only answered my initial question but also answered a supplementary too, denying he knew what was going on. And he rejects the suggestion that he and HSBC “fell asleep”.

“HSBC was the company that was a tower of strength in the crisis,” he announced. “It never took taxpayer money. It continued to pay its taxes and dividends. It was supporting the markets through difficult periods of 07-08.”

Laudable or appalling?

These answers were filmed by a colleague on his mobile phone. Technically far from ideal but at least these important responses have now been made.

Every single member of the audience who wished to ask a question in the time allotted had the opportunity to do so, and they did. Nobody’s questioning was prevented by our filming at the event.

I believe we left on good terms with both the chairman and Stephen Green, and I said I would be in touch for an interview under better circumstances. He helped with his contact details but neither agreed to, nor rejected, my offer.

Of the few in the audience, they seemed pretty much divided between those who thought our conduct laudable and those who thought it appalling.

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