Four former senior executives of the collapsed China Southern Securities went on trial in Shenzhen yesterday for stealing US$780 million through accounts they operated at local branches of foreign banking giants Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank. A former vice-president, Li Zhenwei, the general manager of international business, Jiang Yan, and two others, allegedly stole the money on 16 occasions over four years, the Shanghai-based National Business Daily reported in an article carried by Xinhua online. The report said the four men stole the money using the brokerage's B-share trading and settlement accounts with Citibank and Standard Chartered, which were not approved by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE). Last night, a spokeswoman for Standard Chartered in Shanghai stressed the bank's mainland business operations were legal. 'We had official approval from SAFE for the account for Southern [Securities],' she said. Citibank officials were not available for comment. Securities and banking sources said illegal outflows were engineered by corrupt mainland officials and that the case was just the tip of the iceberg. A banking source said the 'neglect' in scrutiny by foreign banks contributed to activities that amounted to money laundering. 'The situation is quite severe and this kind of thing has been around for many years,' the source added. Hundreds of billions of dollars - including the proceeds of bribery, fraud and tax evasion - are believed to leave the country illegally each year. Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan last year conceded that the government's efforts against money-laundering were falling behind. The newspaper report also said that SAFE and the China Banking Regulatory Commission would punish 'certain' foreign banks for helping state firms in their illegal and criminal acts. It named six other foreign banks as being involved in the case, including Chase and Deutsche banks. China Southern Securities, the nation's fifth-largest brokerage, was recently shut by the central government in a cleanup of the industry. It had lost 6 billion yuan.