Regulator 'could have avoided minibond fiasco'

Dennis Eng

The Lehman Brothers minibond mess could have been avoided had the Securities and Futures Commission imposed the measures needed to properly vet their sale and suitability to investors, a former senior manager with the regulator said.

Harold Ko Ping-chung, the commission's former head of insurance-related policies and products, told lawmakers that he believed different standards used by the commission's investment products and corporate finance departments, and lax supervision and staff inexperience contributed to the Lehman minibond fiasco.

Minibonds were handled by the corporate finance department, which only required that necessary product information be disclosed, and not the investment products department, which looked at whether the various parties involved in the product were suitably qualified.

Since leaving the commission about five months ago, Ko has been keen for lawmakers to hear his evidence. He testified publicly yesterday for the first time before the Legislative Council subcommittee investigating what went wrong. He also met the subcommittee last week behind closed doors.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 left holders of minibonds linked to it virtually worthless. Minibonds are not corporate bonds, but are high-risk, credit-linked derivatives. They are marketed as a proxy investment in well-known companies.

Ko spent much of his two decades with the commission vetting investment products. His deep understanding of the regulator's work in authorising Lehman minibonds is seen as invaluable as lawmakers prepare to summon banking representatives to testify.


Ko is no stranger to politics. In the 1990s he was a core member of United Ants, a grass-roots human rights group. He also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Legco in 1995.