Lai See

HSBC pays big bonuses while admitting to money laundering

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 5:07am

So HSBC paid 204 of its staff more than £1 million (HK$11.7 million) each in bonuses for the financial year just gone, we learned from its results yesterday.

This is after paying a penalty of US$1.92 billion to US regulatory authorities for laundering hundreds of millions of US dollars for the likes of Mexican drug cartels, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Russian gangsters, and helping countries such as Iran, Sudan and North Korea to evade sanctions.

But there are no criminal charges and nobody went to jail. Meanwhile, an individual was recently jailed for 21 months for laundering HK$1.2 million, and another got 10-and-a-half years for laundering HK$13.1 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to HSBC's crimes.

The US Department of Justice's statement last December said: "A four-count felony criminal information was filed … in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging HSBC with willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program, willfully failing to conduct due diligence on its foreign correspondent affiliates … HSBC has waived federal indictment, agreed to the filing of the information, and has accepted responsibility for its criminal conduct and that of its employees."

For this it gets a fine and its chairman "apologises unreservedly". We will probably be accused of being facile but it does not seem right that a bank that has accepted responsibility for criminal behaviour on a massive scale gets off with a fine and an apology, and pays itself fat bonuses, while an individual found guilty is jailed.


Cosco listing badly

We see that one of the mainland's most prominent shipping operators, China Cosco Holdings, is having to navigate difficult waters, so to speak.

Five years after it was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, it is now involved in a protracted and what some say is forlorn struggle to avoid being suspended and delisted. In 2011 it lost 10 billion yuan (HK$12.3 billion), and in the first three quarters of 2012 it was 6.5 billion yuan in the red, according to Caixin.

If it loses money this year it will be suspended until it makes a profit, and if it makes a loss next year it will be delisted. The company is 52 per cent controlled by the state-owned shipping colossus China Ocean Shipping (Group).

China Cosco is involved in manufacturing and shipping, dry bulk shipping, building terminals, and other sea transport logistics.

It was listed in Hong Kong in 2005 and in Shanghai in 2007, raising almost 23 billion yuan. The company boasts the world's largest fleet of dry bulk carriers.

However, Caixin quotes analysts who say the dry bulk operations could have lost about 10 billion yuan in 2012. One analyst told the magazine: "Cosco Holdings' huge loss was a result of blind expansion during good times … and a lack of long-term strategy and preparation against cyclical risk factors. A number of cycles have passed, and its business still relies on the mercy of heaven."


Women's group on a roll

The Hong Kong Women's Foundation is on a roll. A big report it commissioned on the changing profile of Hong Kong women over the past 20 years was published recently.

It is launching the 30% Club in Hong Kong next week, an extension of the initiative aiming to end masculine boardroom control which was launched in London in 2010.

The club comprises a group of chairmen and senior business leaders who are committed to putting more women on Hong Kong's corporate boards. Yesterday the foundation announced that it had "facilitated" a "code of conduct for board searches" by a group of the bigger headhunters in the city.

"Historically, when a vacancy arises on Hong Kong boards, chairmen and nominating committees have tended to look at a familiar, small pool of candidates who are overwhelmingly male," the foundation said in its announcement.

But it added that the selection of candidates tends to be based on comfort levels and board credentials rather than competencies, and the pool of candidates is thus self-perpetuating.

This, it said, works against women, who have had fewer opportunities to shine at board level.