18 Mar 2015

Former HSBC boss Lord Green confronted over tax scandal

Chief Correspondent

Channel 4 News tracks down the elusive former HSBC boss Lord Green, who expresses his “dismay and regret” about tax evasion and avoidance at the bank’s Swiss branch.

Lord Green, who has previously refused to answer questions from journalists on the scandal, was giving a lecture on Banking and Finance at St Michael’s Cornhill church in the city London.

In a terse confrontation, a church official blocked the Channel 4 News camera attempting to film Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson asking Lord Green questions.

However, Lord Green subsequently agreed to take questions, which were filmed on a mobile phone by a Channel 4 News producer.

The former HSBC chairman said: “I share with my colleagues who’ve been before the select committee recently the dismay and regret about what happened… I personally always worked hard at setting and seeking to follow high standards in my career, and so what happened was.. dismay and a source of deep regret.”

Current HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver and Chris Meares, the former head of HSBC’s global private banking division, were questioned by the Public Accounts Committee earlier this month. Shortly afterwards, the committee “came to the view not to call Lord Green at this time.”

In response to Channel 4 News, Lord Green continued: “I am proud of having worked for HSBC – I think it’s a great company. I think it provides a great service to people around the world.

“Did we work hard at trying to do the right thing? Yes we did, and I’m also proud of the way the present leadership team is taking it forward and learning from the experiences.”

Tax secrecy

In February 2015, a variety of news outlets including The Guardian newspaper, published allegations that HSBC’s Swiss banking arm had routinely allowed clients to evade tax, conceal assets, and even advised wealthy customers on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities.

Pressed on whether he knew about the files of data taken by whistleblower Herve Falciani which triggered the revelations about the Swiss branch, Lord Green said he did not know about them or their contents.

HSBC, Lord Green said, “was a large, broad, complex company with a major series of activities” that had been a “tower of strength” in the middle of the financial crisis: “never asking for taxpayers money.”

At the time of the original revelations in February, HSBC said: “we acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures,” adding “standards of due diligence were significantly lower than today.

Given he served as HSBC group chairman from May 2005 to December 2010, Lord Green’s knowledge of the scandal has become a matter of public interest. However he had yet to make a public comment.

On 25 February HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint told MPs the bank was suffering “horrible reputational damage” and said he “sincerely hoped there were no more skeletons.”

Trade minister

Stephen Green joined the House of Lords as a Conservative peer in November 2010, and in January 2011 became a trade minister. Speaking later that year, David Cameron said of him “there couldn’t be a better person for the job.”

He stepped down from his ministerial role in December 2013.

Speaking on Wednesday about the relationship between business and society, Lord Green said “each person has to face the challenge of looking themselves in the mirror and asking themselves ‘can I see how what I do has created good value, has contributed to the common good?'”